WHEELING - Oglebay Institute was formed in 1930 when a group of like-minded citizens, armed with the vision and the philanthropy of the Oglebay family, came together to "contribute to the joy of living" by creating cultural, educational and recreational programming in the city's newly acquired Oglebay Park.
Since that time the institute has grown to include six facilities throughout Wheeling - the Mansion Museum, the Glass Museum, the Stifel Fine Arts Center, Towngate Theatre and Cinema, the Schrader Environmental Education Center and the School of Dance.
It also offers hundreds of community and school programs in the city, Ohio County, the region and state.
Rick Morgan, director of the Stifel Fine Arts Center, works with Triadelphia Middle School student Daniel Riggs on a robotics program, which combines technology with an arts-infused curriculum.
Oglebay Institute is recognized as the oldest arts council in the nation and celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2010 with a four-day "Imagination Celebration" at locations throughout Wheeling. More than 3,000 people participated in the celebration that included musical concerts, art exhibits and workshops, lectures, nature programs and theatrical performances.
Kathleen McDermott, president of Oglebay Institute, said, "One of the most remarkable things about Oglebay Institute is that it has remained committed to its mission to bring a better quality of life and to bring culture, from the fine arts to theater, to nature. That's what we still do today."
She continued, "In the recent past we've really become multi-generational. Before we focused on older children, hoping to keep them interested in the arts. Now we start with preschool, and cultivating them for the future and involving older generations as well.
What impact does Oglebay Institute have on the local community?
A positive one, as more than 120,000 people annually take advantage of the institute's programs. Oglebay Institute operates six facilities throughout Wheeling the Mansion Museum, the Glass Museum, the Stifel Fine Arts Center, Towngate Theatre and Cinema, the Schrader Environmental Education Center and the School of Dance. It also offers hundreds of community and school programs each year.
"We want to give young people an appreciation for art and nature. We hope they will then become a participant - actors, artists, scientists. We want to create programs to start them at an early age."
As an example she cited the new robotics program which combines art and technology.
"I don't see this as a change. I see this as bringing new things in to enhance what we have done."
She said the program is being done in cooperation with Carnegie Mellon University and the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA, which asked the institute to participate. The program is an afternoon program specifically geared toward middle school girls.
McDermott explained research shows girls in middle school lose interest in science, math and technology. The program is an arts-based way of getting girls interested in those subjects.
"The fact we were asked to participate is a testament to what we do here," she said. "Through these two groups we can bring in something they would not have access to. As we continue to do what we do best, we're well suited to provide opportunities in the community."
Oglebay Institute spokeswoman Misty Klug said organizations nationwide are facing some tough times.
Attendance has dropped and the median age of people attending is increasing. The trend is that audiences are getting smaller and older.
"Oglebay Institute is very fortunate to be doing well despite the discouraging nationwide trends," she said.
"Oglebay Institute serves more than 120,000 people annually through public events in the arts and nature and outreach programs at area schools and community organizations.
"Attendance remains steady and in some areas has increased, and the organization remains fiscally sound."
She attributed Oglebay Institute's success to "very strong roots in the community."
She added it is fortunate to have a large group of supporters who believe strongly in the organization's mission.
She also noted a committed Board of Trustees, energetic and innovative staff, a strong ability to adapt to the needs of the public and generous corporate philanthropy.
"However, just because OI is holding its own, doesn't mean we can afford to just maintain the status quo," Klug said.
"Knowing what we know about the national trends and the changing arts audiences, we constantly look at our programming, get feedback from our patrons and engage in strategic planning."
Klug emphasized the new programs being instituted that are relevant to people's current interests, particularly with the use of technology.
For example, development of a new media arts lab, where classes for adults and children will be offered in areas such as film editing, photo editing and digital animation, is in the works.
"This is one way we are blending technology and the visual arts," she said.
She also cited the addition of a Children's Theatre Season; Saturday nature programs for families; and incorporating children's tours into the annual Antiques Show.