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Art studio opens in former town hall PDF Print E-mail
Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Thursday, 06 July 2017 15:05

Don and Eileen Urness are still upgrading the 1800s building and plan more art shows this year

Nearly a year after purchasing the old Belgium Town Hall, Don and Eileen Urness have brought the building back to life.
The Urnesses transformed the 123-year-old building into an art studio and hailed its first event last month as a success.
“Fifty people signed the guest book, but we know there were more than that,” Cedar Grove-Belgium High School art teacher Don Urness said. “It was fun to see people actually enjoying it. We’ve got an unofficial thing — serious art in a not so serious environment.”
BELGIUM ART GALLERY URNESS 2 s1062517067 4CSome of the people who helped the Urnesses  remodel the inside were given one of 28 folding chairs that came with the building to decorate however they like for the art show. Some were professionals and some showed their work for the first time.
“We want to have some pretty serious artists, but we want to have it fun, too, so kind of a family type environment,” Don said.
People who have been in the building before may struggle to recognize its inside today. Brightly colored rugs cover the floor, and the railing that kept the public separate from elected bodies was moved to the top of the room, where a futon in a lounge-like setting encompasses the loft. The Urness’ son made a ladder to allow access.
“People like to go up there and look down over the crowd,” Don said.
One big hit is an old cigarette vending machine that was converted into an art machine. Five dollars now earns the buyer a piece of art like a small painting or one of Eileen’s rock necklaces.
“We call it the art-in-a-box machine,” Don said.
The Urnesses added a bathroom — the building didn’t have running water before — and plans on more upgrades such as painting the exterior and adding insulation. Those may come later as Don and Eileen, both artists, are preparing for a few art shows at other venues this summer and fall.
Don said the 851-square-foot studio doesn’t have regular hours yet, only scheduled shows and by appointment. The chairs remain in the studio until a closing show from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 23.
Plans are in the works for another show, he said.
The Urnesses bought the building at 814 Main St. for $8,000 from the Town of Belgium last July.
Since the building is located in the Village of Belgium, the Village Board amended its zoning ordinance to allow art galleries in a residential district.
The town moved to its new Town Hall at 171 Main St. in 2015 after a $350,000 donation from Belgium Family Dental, which owns the building and has its dental practice in the complex. The town paid $110,000 for the building.

PHOTO INFORMATION: DON AND EILEEN Urness (above) bought the former Belgium Town Hall last year and have transformed it into an art studio and gallery. Their first event last month included chairs decorated by people who helped with renovations. The show drew more than 50 people, including former Cedar Grove-Belgium High School technical education teacher Wayne Hoffmann (right).  Photos by Sam Arendt

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