Arts Talk


Brightening the room

75 years of Art League

By Bonnie Blackburn
Marita O’Neil-Maloley was just a twinkle in her father’s eyes when a group of Fort Wayne ladies sat down one spring afternoon in 1937 and decided that something should be done to support the work of the Fort Wayne Art School, the predecessor to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. “Under the guidance of Miss Margaret Keegan, then president of the Board of the Art School, a group of young women planned and presented in the home of Mrs. Oscar Fox a program called ‘A Century of Weddings.’ This program being a financial success, Miss Keegan recommended that this group be formed as … the Fort Wayne Art League,” according to a 1954 history of the group.

Seventy-five years later, the Fort Wayne Art League continues to present monthly programs to its 40 members, all of whom are women and were invited to join the league by prior members. O’Neil-Maloley is serving as president during this diamond anniversary year.

The league “was purely social when it was first started,” O’Neil-Maloley said. Over time, it evolved into a fundraising organization that to date has donated more than $175,000 to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. The group currently donates about $20,000 per year to the museum, helps with the annual museum gala and sponsors exhibits — particularly for children — each year. This year, the group plans various events to commemorate its 75th year.

“We’ve been quite an advocate for the programs for children,” O’Neil-Maloley said. “We feel that if we educate the child and encourage them when they are young, they’ll carry that love of art into adulthood.”

That’s certainly been the case for O’Neil-Maloley. As a child, she performed ballet, tap and jazz dance, and even today, at 74 years old, she dances the role of the grandmother in the Fort Wayne Ballet’s annual performances of “The Nutcracker.” She and the other members of the league plan various bus tours, house tours, speakers and other programs that help raise the donations the group makes for the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Why is the group limited to women? “It probably started with women because the women didn’t work years ago, and they were looking for some outlet,” O’Neil-Maloley said.

Why the art museum? “The art museum is a gathering place of people who enjoy exploring the arts, and there’s such a wide variety of arts that it’s appealing to so many people,” she said.

Keeping the arts alive in Fort Wayne is the motivation behind the league’s longevity.

“Art brightens a room. It brightens the spirits,” O’Neil-Maloley said. “You look at how art will brighten a room. A blank wall doesn’t say much.”

Posted: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 1:35 pm
Last updated: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:20 pm