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Art Center director moving on, leaving a fine legacy



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November 16, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Reggie Harrison may not be a famous artist but, over the past decade, she has motivated and inspired countless people young and old to pursue their artistic passions at the Orion Art Center.

Colleagues and friends say the director of the facility tucked next to Meek's Park in the village has been one of our community's greatest champions of the arts during this time.

The results speak for themselves. Harrison's efforts have helped triple the Art Center's membership and cement its position as a cultural focal point in the Lake Orion and Oxford communities.

In addition to hosting an ongoing slate of classes covering a broad range of art forms, the Art Center has hosted more than 90 exhibits featuring the work of local artisans during her tenure, plus spearheaded the popular Dragon on the Lake summer festival.

Harrison also has also led the planning of the Dragon on the Ice fundraiser, as well as other similar programs to raise funding for the non-profit entity over the years.

Unfortunately for this community, the director recently announced she is leaving the Orion Art Center this month to join Common Ground in Bloomfield Township, as a development specialist. She says it is a nice opportunity, but leaves with a heavy heart.

"The Orion Art Center will always be close to me," she said. "I was brought up on the arts and I've made many good friends here. It's been an important part of my life for a long time. I've really enjoyed watching people in this great community embrace the Art Center."

Her friends in the art community here feel the same about her. "Reggie's great enthusiasm has had such an impact on the growth of the Orion Art Center, where so many local artists have been able to display their creativity," said Sue Turpen, immediate past vice president of the Art Center. "Every community should be so fortunate to have such a venue as ours. She will be sorely missed."

Tony Lasher, vice president of Oxford Bank, a major sponsor of Orion Art Center events, also shares the appreciation of Harrison's work over the years.

"Reggie has really generated a lot of attention for the arts in this community," he said, noting her tireless work ethic and ability to effectively work with people. "I'm disappointed she is leaving, but I have a lot of respect for her and wish her the best."

Prior to joining the Art Center in 2001, Harrison worked for ONTV as outreach coordinator. She helped launch "Drawn to Art", a show on the local cable television station featuring the talents and works of intergenerational artists in the area.

She jumped at the opportunity to take over the Art Center while maintaining a flexible schedule to accommodate her family. When she started, there was one artist exhibiting on one wall of the center. She successfully applied for a grant and grew the Art Center's offerings and presence from there.

"When I started, it was about 15 hours a week," she said. "The last few years, it's been a full-time job, much more during events like Dragon on the Lake and others."

Among her greatest personal accomplishments has been the success of the Art Center's youth programs and week-long art camps.

"I've been very proud of how we've been able to nurture young, aspiring artists," Harrison said. "I'm so glad we have been able to make kids part of the Art Center and spark their imaginations they've made it what it is today."

Harrison said the Joan Brace Scholarship Program launched by the Art Center's founding members before she joined the organization, has awarded$40,000 in college scholarships to local high school artists over the years.

She also is proud of the success of community events launched by the Art Center, namely Dragon on the Lake.

"I've certainly enjoyed watching it grow over the past few years," Harrison said. "I always wanted to host a festival that incorporated families, art and the environment, but in a different, unique way. I think we've accomplished that with Dragon on the Lake."

Turpen thinks the summer festival would not have come to fruition without Harrison's involvement. "We all had ides for the festival, but Reggie was the detail person and pulled it all together."

While Harrison has done a nice job managing the business end of the Art Center, she has enjoyed working with the artists themselves the most. She thinks everyone is an artist in some fashion their talents just need to be found.

"The real fun for me is meeting someone who is interested in art and encouraging and empowering them to try something new, such as a drawing class," she said, noting that she has "dabbled" in various art forms herself over the years, mainly to help fill up class slots at the Art Center.

At this point, Harrison said there are four or five people interested in the soon-to-be-vacant position and it will be up to the Art Center's board to make the selection.

"Whoever they choose, I think they'll bring in the right person with the right skill set to take the Art Center to the next level," she said.

A resident of Lake Orion since 1993, Harrison is not leaving the community and hopes the Art Center will continue to play a key role in providing some artistic pizzazz to the area.

"I really love Lake Orion, especially the village and its uniqueness," she said. "I hope the Art Center continues to grow and thrive. There is a real opportunity for this community to grow culturally and it will play an important role in this."

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