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BANDON -- When Anne Sobbota moved from Southern California with her husband, it was to get away from the smog and hectic, stressful lifestyle. 

She found what she was looking for in Bandon -- a beautiful, natural environment that allowed her to explore her artistic side. 

Soon after settling, Sobbota, an educator, and her husband Eugene began volunteering in the community. Anne began serving on committees and boards, including the Bandon Community Youth Center. In 2007, she spearheaded the city's Main Street application. She became the coordinator when Bandon became a transforming Main Street town in 2009, moving the program forward in coordination with other Bandon organizations.

At the same time, Sobbota had opened her own gallery. Sage Place was first located in the historic former Coast Guard building, then a few years later was moved to its current location in a former home at 525 11th St. SE. Sobbota began remodeling the new space, which became time-consuming, so in 2010 stepped down as Main Street coordinator. That organization is now the Greater Bandon Association.

Meanwhile, its new location, Sage Place was soon remodeled and transformed. A large studio was created in the back, with jewelry, beads and artwork for sale in the front of the building. Classes were offered in beading, stained glass, jewelry making and other artistic mediums, taught by Sobbota and guest artists.

Fast-foward a few years and Sobbota is excited to present to the community an artistic exhibit that she describes as ever-evolving.

The Bandon Discovery Center is set to open Thursday, July 28, from 4-8 p.m. for a "sneak peek" of what Sobbota hopes to become a center for both the community and visitors to enjoy -- and for those with an artistic side they'd like to discover.

Planning for the Center began in January 2016, when Sobbota decided to reinvent Sage Place in a move away from retail and toward a more active destination-based business model that also more closely aligns the gallery exhibits with the adjoining studio. 

"A lot of museums and discovery centers have people come in and go through the exhibits and they're done," Sobbota said. "We want people to come in and play and create."

The Discovery Center exhibits will focus around representations of wildlife and habitats found along the Southern Oregon Coast. Exhibits are produced on site, in the Sage Place studio, by visitors and volunteers of all ages. With the help of a group of dedicated volunteers, including Susan Tree, SueAnn Williams, Alice Baum, Mary Webb and Karen Foster, the Bandon Discovery Center is taking shape and will permanently open in August.

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Sobbota said the core goal of the Bandon Discovery Center it to facilitate community interaction, inspired by creative engagement and arts instruction. Using many different forms of media, including glass, felting, leather, paint and ceramics, Sobbota and volunteers have created interactive exhibits with informational displays. For example, the main room is the land area, with a paper tree expertly crafted, along with fused glass and mosaic depictions of native trees and vegetation. An adjacent room represents the ocean and its many facets above and below water, including aquatic life and shorebirds.

Visitors will learn how the exhibits were made and will be invited to help create art that can be used in future exhibits.

"The idea is to teach and for people to see the process and think creatively," Sobbota said. "They'll see how an artist interprets what they see and what sparks creativity and also what holds a community together. In the studio, we will have larger and smaller projects that people can help with. And we will still have advanced classes for those who want to take those."

Previously, Sage Place couldn't accommodate children, but the Discovery Center will have activities that are kid-safe, Sobbota added. It will also feature a small gift shop.

The change is a relief for Sobbota, who found herself getting caught up in selling a product that wasn't even created locally and trying to keep the gallery and shop going with the competition of online shopping. 

"Being a teacher is more about helping people discover their creativity and about what goes into the creative process," Sobbota said. "People are so consumer based. They don't take time to see what goes into it and (the Bandon Discovery Center) encourages that discovery. I've been beating my head on the wall for a couple of years on how to make that retail space work. I wanted people to come in and have a good time and be creative and once I freed myself from that retail model, the center started taking shape."

As a teacher and volunteer, Sobbota has also always wanted to give back. She sensed a disconnect among people and woke up one day and thought, "What am I doing, I never even wanted to do retail." Her original kernal of truth became clear again and it was about being part of the community in a creative way.

"People don't want stuff anymore, especially stuff made somewhere else," she said. "They want a story, a connection. I want people to come in and enjoy my space and enjoy Bandon and learn a new skill and take something positive out there."

The Discovery Center is supported through studio bookings, gift shop sales and donations. It will open with several featured exhibits that are "in progress," meaning they are designed to be expanded and changed as public participation grows. Opening exhibits include: "Rockfish of the Southern Oregon Coast," "Shorebirds" and "Trees of the Pacific Northwest."

Locals and visitors alike are invited to participate. For more information, call the Bandon Discovery Center at 541-329-0303.

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