Danita Raulerson has a goal set beyond running her successful businesses, The Artist Within. She wants to make a difference in her home town. She hopes to help disadvantaged Lakeland youth discover their own artist within.
Raulerson owns and operates two stores downtown on Kentucky Avenue. The established location handles home decor and antiques. Last week she opened a fine arts gallery at 123 South Kentucky Avenue.
“The whole concept of The Artist Within is a place where artists can work, sell, and teach from. I’m an artist. I love to teach. And, of course, sell my work. But I couldn’t find it all in one place. When I first started the business two years ago I had been actively looking for somewhere in this area where I could do that, ” Raulerson said.
She found it at the new South Kentucky Avenue location. The gallery is large enough to have several specialized sections, “The gallery floor is restricted for fine quality art. We call that fine handcraft. All of the artists also have their bread-and-butter pieces that they make. We reserve that for the Gallery Gift Shop.”
What’s unique about the new space is found upstairs. It’s a shared studio space where artists can set up easels and paint. Two private studios are also available for rent by the month. Raulerson hopes artists will hang out upstairs, “What I’m trying to do is build this creative community where artists can come together and share information and create this synergy and be together. Yes, you can paint at home, and yes, you can take courses online, and yes, you can read it in the books, but it’s not as much fun. It’s just so inspiring to be around other artists. Thats why I wanted a large enough space where everybody can be together and communicate and be a part of this.”
She’s attracted a diverse artistic community that is rooted in Lakeland. Almost all of the gallery artists are residents. That’s where their similarities end. They work in various mediums. “We want to try to show a little bit of everything. We do have jewelry and clay. We have photography. We have oil and acrylic, fused glass, a metal sculptor, and stained glass. And all these people were right here in town. We do have a lot of talent right here,” Raulerson said.
Artists who join the member gallery are featured on The Artist Within’s website. Pieces in the gallery aren’t available on the website, but customers can view other examples of the artist’s work and purchase them right off the site.
Being online isn’t enough. The gallery needed a place where customers could view the works. Raulerson felt that place belonged downtown. Though she scouted other locations her heart remained downtown, “You can have a shopping experience downtown you can’t get anywhere else. I love the downtown area. I was just talking with Anne Furr, of the LDDA, about the growth potential here. I really believe Lakeland can be the next Mount Dora. I think we have enough talent in this town. We have enough interest. The LDDA and the Downtown Lakeland Partnership is working very hard to promote the downtown area and helping it to reach its potential. We as consumers have to support it. We have to continue to shop down here. As business owners we have to look to the downtown area.”
From her time as a Lakeland youth, Raulerson remembers the treat it was to come downtown and she thinks people want to return to the city’s center, “I’ve talked to a lot of college students and they love to shop downtown. They’re hoping somebody will build places they can live downtown.” More importantly, her gallery fits the area, “Art needs to be in a more cozy environment and have the charm and I think Lakeland has that. Art is an important part of our culture and this is where Lakeland started. Right here. That’s why I want to be a part of it.”
Now that Raulerson has found her perfect downtown location she has big plans for the gallery, “Our goal is to provide a venue for artists to show their work and sell. I hope that it gets to be known this is the place to get a commission piece.” She emphasized the diversity of the artists in the gallery where everything from sculpture to murals can be commissioned.
Showcasing Lakeland talent satisfied one of Raulerson’s goals, “I’m so fortunate now because I get to do what I love everyday. Years ago that was my goal. To own my own company by the time I’m 40 and to make sure its a job I love. And I got that.”
Raulerson’s next step is to offer classes for children to learn from local artists. The Artist Within currently offers classes for adults and advanced teens. By summer she hopes to offer classes for children. The gallery plans classes on fine art instruction, painting, and pottery. Raulerson even plans to develop a wall for the children to display their own art, and also put some on the gallery website.
Once that goal is reached Raulerson is expanding her dream, “We do want to get more involved with community activities. We’ve done some, and our artists are are willing to help. My pinpoint goal is to get this up and running and profitable so we can provide a place for the disadvantaged to come and take art classes for free. Art is expensive and if you’re in school they’re taking so much out of it. They need to be able to participate in it. It’s a catharsis. It’s a way of expression. And its healing for a lot of people. That’s our long term goal. ”
Raulerson doesn’t believe that will happen overnight, “Once I get the doors fully opened and get this running the way I want; then I’m going to go out and talk to the people about supporting this. So the children can come here and even take home art supplies for free.”
She hopes to find community partnerships to help fund the programs and supplies; and when she says “I know this is going to work in my heart.” it’s very easy to believe her.
Art runs in Danita Raulerson’s family. Her children have followed the muse and work in their mother’s galley. They’re learning from her as she learned from her father, “My father was a residential and commercial painter here in Lakeland, Robert Altman. He taught me how to hold a paint brush. That’s how I learned all about acrylic paint, and oil. And the differences. And the structure of the paint. And as I grew I took that information learning how to push the paint and I developed my own painting skills.”
The Artist Within Gallery, Gift Shop & Creative Arts Studio (863.683.2787) is located at 123 S. Kentucky Ave. and the Antiques & Home Decor store (863.682.3930) is at 244 N. Kentucky Ave. — E-Mail: email@example.com