City’s plans for Beacon Hill brings new focus for local artists


Kira Hynes

Beacon Hills has served as wonderful place for O’Keefe-Hutton to create art. “Whenever I would climb the stairs to my studio I would viscerally feel my heart lift, knowing I was climbing those stairs to a place where I could create to my heart’s content,” she said.

A box sits balanced on a rough curb, stray weeds and grass brushing its edges and corners. Inside, the box holds disfigured paint tubes and a selection of charcoal and pastel nubs alongside an array of miscellaneous art supplies.

Local artist Patty O’Keefe-Hutton leans over and picks the box up, placing it in her trunk among the several other containers carrying the last of the contents of her studio.

Pulling out of the driveway, O’Keefe-Hutton takes a final look at the building that housed her studio for the past 15 years.

With a fond last glance at the red, weathered awning over Beacon Hills Studio’s faded yellow wood doors, she pulls out onto W. Trinity Place, following the road to her new destination, her new studio.

To create a new space for the City Schools of Decatur’s (CSD) headquarters, now that plans are in motion to reopen Westchester Elementary, the city is, according to School Superintendent Phyllis Edwards, in the process of arranging “more formal agreements” to rework the Beacon Hill space and accommodate the need for change.

As a result of this, O’Keefe-Hutton and four other artists who utilized Beacon Hills studios have moved from the larger space to an old hotel across from the train depot on E. Howard Ave.

“It’s the building with the colorful mural on it called ‘Inspire Each Other,’” O’Keefe-Hutton said. “Isn’t that a perfect sentiment for an artist studio?”

Excited as she is to be moving into the new space, O’Keefe-Hutton said that after having summer art camps and other larger events in the more sizable studio, the change is a big one.

O’Keefe-Hutton said she looks forward to the new level of focus and inspiration she thinks will come with a smaller space that “has a lot of personality and history.”

“It has been a bit bittersweet, but I have had such a good run [at Beacon Hills] that I can only feel gratitude for having had the opportunity to be there for so long,” she said.

The perks of the new location, however, have trumped over the familiar aspect of these five artists’ Beacon Hills studios. Closer to the heart of the city, O’Keefe-Hutton said the group is looking forward to the possibility of a “new hub of activity” outside the doors of their “more intimate” space.

As far as the plans for Beacon Hills, proposals by Edwards and her peers state that it is likely to house the CSD central office in addition to other rentable office space.

For O’Keefe-Hutton, though, the most important aspect is that she still has a separate place where she can be as creative as she wants, even if it’s a different setting and energy than her previous studio.

“To create art in a place with no distractions is a dream come true for any artist, and having a designated studio space offers me that,” she said. “I am hoping that the new, smaller space will allow me to focus more on my painting. In fact, I am in the process of setting up my new space to encourage a more one-pointed focus.”