We are proud to announce the completion of our Barn Studio at the Empower Youth Ranch! Thanks to our amazing network of supporters and Empower Youth’s hard-working interns and volunteers, we were able to transform the neglected “Happy Place” barn into a comfortable space for creativity and community. This week, the Barn Studio hosted our Community Studio program, an Empower Youth board meeting, and other community events.

See the stages of the transformation below, along with descriptions of some of our favorite projects.

Our first week in the barn was dirty, sweaty, and exhausting; but despite the trash, moldy hay, a family of black snakes, and even a cat carcass, we were still able to imagine the amazing potential of this space.

We maintained as much of the barn’s history and identity as possible by salvaging and repurposing materials we found on the ranch. Below are some of our favorite finds.



On one of our first days on the ranch, we discovered a wicker chair on the burn pile. We rescued it and made plans to restore it. In the ensuing weeks our interns sanded and stained the chair back to its original beauty, and it is now a place for comfort and relaxation.



This was the original ladder to the barn’s hayloft. We have plans to build a new, safer way of reaching the loft, so we repurposed this ladder into a shelf for the Barn Studio. The interns cleaned, sanded, and coated it with polyurethane before we hung it in the studio as a display shelf.



We salvaged whatever we could from the condemned “Red Barn” before it was torn down. A few of the interns especially liked this old wood door, braving the “Red Barn”‘s dusty hayloft to retrieve it. Together we transformed it from a barn door to a custom cabinet door, and it is now one of our favorite features of the Barn Studio.



We are especially excited about our Barn Studio counter, which was made entirely of materials salvaged from the ranch. Saddle racks rescued from the flooded tack room support a beautiful dark wood counter made from salvaged “Red Barn” wood. A large mirror we found discarded on the ranch hangs above the counter, making the room feel much larger. The mirror was a challenge to hang, but well worth the effort.

Our yellow work lamps, generously donated by long-time Bethel-Tate educator Mary Trecost, complement the bright teal stools and complete the Barn Studio’s look. Thanks, Mary!



Donated by the Bethel Felicity Girl Scout Service Unit, these bookshelves found a new home in our Barn Studio after some sanding and painting. We now use them to store supplies, artworks in progress, and, of course, books.



The cracked, sunken concrete floor of the Barn Studio proved a constant struggle during the renovation. Facing record rainfalls this summer, we found ourselves battling weekly floods. Thanks to a generous donation from Margie Zdenek, we were able to patch the holes in the concrete and build a barrier to prevent water from seeping in. Now the space is safe from heavy rain. Thank you to everyone who encouraged and advised us while we wrestled with this tricky problem.



The room adjacent to the Barn Studio, formerly a horse wash stall, is now the site of our personal studios. The interns had the great idea to use the old door of the “Red Barn” as a studio wall. Even though it took six of us to move it, the effort was worth it in the end.


We feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to create a space for our community together. Even the creatures like our new space 😉 Scroll down for the finished renovations pictures.



Introducing the Barn Studio

To thank the many people who helped make this possible, we threw a party in our new space. For the first time, friends gathered around the tables of the Barn Studio to share food and conversation. Francesca and Hillary gave short artist talks to introduce their individual artistic practices and explain in depth their engagement with this community. Even Jeffrey (or Ralph), the ranch’s resident rooster, made an appearance.

For us, one scene summarizes the successful transformation of the space: interns and volunteers sitting around the table playing checkers at the end of the night. This neglected barn is now a site of warmth, creativity, and relationship-building. We are so excited to see how the space thrives alongside Empower Youth and its mission for many years to come.

If you would like to visit the Barn Studio on the Empower Youth Ranch, contact us or come to one of our Community Studios.


Special thanks to everyone who made this transformation possible:

Scott and Lori Conley, Richard and Ruth Lail, Mary Trecost, Mark and Kami Owen, Margie Zdenek, Joe Glassmeyer, Rob and Lisa Fanning, Chris and Sheila Miller, Debrah Davidson Nickol, Emmanuel Cairo, Matt and Fay Wagner, Michael and Stephanie Fiore, Bill and Mary Rodger, Amy Bain, John Essen, Norbert and Maryann Kosinski, Anthony and Angela Cooney, Community Savings Bank, Bethel Church of the Nazarene, the Bethel Felicity Girl Scout Service Unit, and Empower Youth’s unbelievably awesome interns and volunteers!


Posted by:SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing

SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing was a process of serial socially engaged research facilitated by artists Francesca Fiore and Hillary Wagner in collaboration with the rural community of Bethel in Appalachian Ohio. From 2017 to 2019 SOIL SERIES took many forms including conversations, public programs, projects, and collective imagining. A drawing in the most expansive sense, SOIL SERIES was an exercise in relational mark-making. By creating the conditions for new conversations and possibilities around artmaking, the public, and social imagination, SOIL SERIES proposed social drawing as the generative engine for community-initiated action.

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