The art of retirement

Former teacher opens ARTS on Broad

Photo by Peyton Sims
Debbie Nicholas sits in front of her most recent painting she's been working on. Numerous other pieces of art are displayed throughout ARTS on Broad.

Story by Cate Rounds, Editor in Chief

After teaching for 37 years, with 20 of those years being at Texas High, art teacher Debbie Nicholas has retired. While some would take this time to settle down and take things slow, Nicholas packed up her paint brushes and jumped forth on a new project. The former art teacher took her skills and used them to open her own art gallery, ARTS on Broad, located in downtown Texarkana.

“ARTS on Broad is an art gallery and art maker’s space combined. The front part is our gallery where we show local artists, and the back part of the first room is going to be our classroom space,” Nicholas said.

This is like a dream. I’ve always wanted to do something to help share the arts even more when I got out of teaching at the high school level. I believe arts education is important.”

— Debbie Nicholas

Since announcing her retirement in January of 2019, Nicholas had been working to make her dream become reality. In October of the same year, Nicholas found an unexpected business partner, Kathy Hudson, while attending a Tiger Theatre Company performance of “Night of the Living Dead.”

“[I told her that] I wanted to open an art gallery and [have] a space where I can teach classes and have a studio,” Nicholas said. “In the first intermission, she turns around and she says, ‘Do you want a business partner?’ I had never thought about a business partner. She said that it was something that [she’s] always wanted to do, [and] I said OK. She doesn’t create art, but she’s an art lover and an art collector, so she has a great eye.”

After teaming up, the pair quickly began looking at spaces downtown for the new gallery. After looking at multiple potential storefronts, they found a space to rent on Broad Street, hence the business’s namesake. Not only was the location equipped with a large space for classes, an area to showcase the artwork and even a loft for a personal art and office space, the future art gallery came with a memory from Nicholas’s childhood.

“The last year my daddy was alive, he came to Hart’s Drugstore, which was this building when I was growing up, and he bought our last Christmas presents [from there]. As a last minute shopper, he grabbed what he could so we got nail clippers for Christmas that year,” Nicholas said.

With a sweet memory in tow, Nicholas and Hudson signed the lease just before Christmas to begin working on the space Jan. 1.

Nicholas stands outside of ARTS on Broad. This location used to be Hart’s Drugstore in the past.

Compared to other art galleries in the area, ARTS on Broad will exclusively feature local artists from Texarkana.

“I think people will be impressed with what local artists can do. Price-wise, we’re the cheapest gallery around because we do a lot of small works. The other galleries don’t really do small works because it’s all local and not really well-known for the most part,” Nicholas said. “The works are high quality, but not a high price.”

Nicholas and Hudson have already curated an array of works including but not limited to paintings, sculptures, ceramics and even handmade items like jewelry. The artists themselves range from the art teachers at Texas High to seasoned artists that are mostly unknown to artists with slightly more well known pieces from the area. Each piece and person comes with a story that makes the art what it is.

“I had a lady come by one day, and [she] told me her story. She had some artwork, and I really liked her sculptures,” Nicholas said. “She was a homeless woman in Austin and worked with this program called Art From the Street. She was already making art from tin cans, but they really worked with her and showed her some techniques. She’s no longer homeless. She lives here in Texarkana now. I have about 30 of her sculptures in here made of soda cans, beer cans and other things that she finds.”

Although preparations for the business seemed to be moving along, a certain unexpected event began making headlines across the world, slowing some things down.

The COVID-19 pandemic.

This global epidemic took the world by storm, leading to the suffering of many small businesses. For a future small business owner, one may think negatively about the prospects of opening or continuing a business during these times. For Nicholas, however, she used this time as a way to escape the negativity.

“I was down here the whole Spring Break working,” Nicholas said. “When school was basically canceled except for online, this was my life saver. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had [this space to come to]. I have been down here every day since the shut down because I was by myself here so it was safe. I would come down every day and work on the walls, work on doing some painting, painting the walls [and] repairing holes in the walls.”

With the current events going on, Nicholas has had to learn how to adapt to the changes going on in the world and the governmental orders to keep all of her customers and artists safe.

“It was easy for me to come down and get everything set up to have the artists come in one at a time [to bring in] artwork,” Nicholas said. “It’s a fairly large space, so you can get a lot of people in here but still social distance. At the front, I have masks [and] hand sanitizer. I’m trying to stay as safe as possible.”

In order to achieve her goal of spreading arts education during this time, Nicholas will be hosting “Arts Adventures” July 14 through the 17 for middle school and high school students, and July 21 through the 24 for kindergarten through sixth grade students. The event will be social distancing friendly by limiting one person or family group per table. Masks will be provided for those who do not attend with one.

While adding some of the finishing touches to her most recent train painting, Nicholas remains focused on each paint stroke.

“A lot of kids are looking for something [to do] because they haven’t gotten to go to school,” Nicholas said. “[For the elementary school students], we’ll work with cool pastels, Tempera watercolors and do the shaving cream marbling. For the middle school and high school students, we will do some acrylic pours, still-life drawings and plein air watercolors.”

With ARTS on Broad, Debbie Nicholas has made her long-awaited dream a reality. Through continuing to teach art classes at the studio as well as supporting local artists by selling their pieces, Nicholas is spreading art education and culture throughout downtown Texarkana.

“The people who come in and say, ‘Oh my god, I love this,’ even if they don’t buy anything are just really neat. To have people look at the art and enjoy it, that’s the most rewarding thing to me,” Nicholas said.

ARTS on Broad location: 223 E Broad St, Texarkana, AR 71854
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Facebook- ARTS on Broad
Phone number: 903-278-5868