- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - In the beginning, the quaint, second-floor space inside an office building was empty and dark; blank walls, unrealized potential.

Then someone said - quite literally - “Let There Be Art.”

It’s the name of the painting studio created by friends Misty Cougill and Deanna Knott, who felt it was time for Muncie to have its own, permanent location for painters.

Now, the open, clean studio is decorated with paintings made by the duo, as well as their business partners Michelle Walker and Tammy Kramer. The four women brought the walls to life with the help of each of their families during the summer months.

The concept for the studio was one Cougill and Knott reached after attending a mobile wine and canvas event in 2014. Earlier this month, after about a year of planning, painting and brainstorming, the women held a grand opening event for Let There Be Art.

“This studio is a place where anyone can paint, no matter how old they are,” Cougill, a trained artist, told The Star Press. “It’s not about being perfect or making the perfect painting … It’s about sparking creativity.”

The grand opening brought in more than 100 area residents who maintain an interest in local art, including the do-it-yourself approach to painting, according to Knott.

“We saw a lot of friends and family, of course,” she said. “But we also saw a lot of faces we didn’t recognize. That was a great thing to see.”

Knott was quick to admit she’s not a trained artist like Cougill is, but that didn’t stop her from getting her hands dirty.

“I’m the one who says she can’t do something, but then when I’m given a nudge I’ll be able to,” she said. “We all had a hand in making this studio what it is.”

Generally speaking, canvas painting isn’t a new concept. In fact, Wine & Canvas - a business that helped popularize the activity - got its start in Indianapolis in 2010; today, it’s in more than 60 cities across 25 states. And while its reach extends into Muncie, with painting parties held at Vera Mae’s every couple of months, that business serves a different function from Muncie’s new acrylic art studio.

Let There Be Art is what Cougill calls “a new approach to wine and canvas” for groups and individuals in Muncie, one without the alcohol. The 25-seat studio offers open studio hours as well as event hours, she said. Visitors can pay $10 per blank 16-by-20 canvas and paint whatever they’d like, Cougill said.

Each of the four owners serve as instructors during open studios and painting parties. The painting parties are generally a guided painting, Cougill said.

“It’s rare you’ll find a real studio that does the wine part of wine and canvas,” she said, pointing out that most events are hosted off-site, at bars or wineries. “Our focus is on making this studio a place for people to come to, so they can paint and really enjoy themselves.”

There are also membership plans available. These one-, three-, six-, nine- and 12-month plans allow for a less expensive, and more productive, time in the studio, she said.

“We are really here to help people put their ideas and creativity to the canvas in front of them,” she said. “We want to make painting affordable and easy for our customers. It’s all about helping them make great art.”

Even the walls of the studio are dedicated to the work of visitors, said Knott. Each customer is asked to write their name on the wall before they leave, allowing the studio itself to act as a large-scale guest book.

Let There Be Art also offers a fundraising program called Art With Heart, through which groups can hold painting parties to help raise money for their cause or a nonprofit group; it’s similar to how organizations occasionally do “takeovers” at area restaurants. In the case of Art With Heart, groups will receive 50 percent of the proceeds from their fundraiser.

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, http://tspne.ws/1J5Tsm4

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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