Founded in 2020 by Emily Free Wilson and Matt Wilson. With roots from Helena, Montana, this dynamic couple brought their vision of an inclusive creative place to the Oregon Coast. As potters, they have slowly grown their pottery business Free Ceramics while supporting the arts through classes, events and making art studios available to artists. In Helena, MT they continued their mission to support the arts by converting an old funeral home into an active community art center with private art studios. That experience, (and fishing on the Umpqua River, has led them to the incredible old middle school in Gardiner, Oregon.
is a continuation of their lifelong passion to support artists and the arts. Matt has over 20 years of experience in construction and is very capable of helping artists with the technical challenges they face. Emily has a background in gallery work and exhibitions, and as an organizer thrives bringing artists and a community together. Her 10 plus years as Gallery Director at the Archie Bray Foundation gave her a foundation of experience that continues to be a positive force in the art world.
Board of Directors
Advisor - Portland, Oregon
The 45,000 square foot building is an old middle school located in an ideal location in Gardiner, Oregon, just one block off Highway 101, near Reedsport and between Florence and Coos Bay. It overlooks the Umpqua River and is a short drive to the ocean. In the heart of Gardiner, a small town of 150 people, is an ideal location for artists to be inspired by their surroundings while being creative and enjoying an expansive view of the Umpqua estuary.
The building is shared with Free Ceramics, a small family pottery. The 1st floor has a ceramic community classroom and a cafeteria/auditorium for workshops and multi-media classes. The lower gym will be available for large scale construction and eventually a wood shop and small theater. The 2nd floor hosts the “classroom” apartments where residents will work and live.
Down the hallway from the studios is a large open gymnasium available for use.
Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
Diversity encompasses the different characteristics that make an individual or group unique. We at the Oregon Coast School of Art embrace a broad definition of diversity that includes race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, size, and physical appearance. We seek to proactively engage, understand, and bring a variety of perspectives to cultivate a culture of inclusion.
The Oregon Coast School of Art is committed to creating and fostering environments in which any individual or group can feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. Our commitment is centered around finding unique and diverse voices and providing a safe space for those voices to gain volume. Inclusion is the framework we use to promote diverse ideas and through it we seek to actively eliminate unnecessary, socially constructed hierarchies through a deep commitment to mutual respect and accountability.
We seek to create an environment where everyone can be seen, heard, and known. Diversity and inclusion are the foundation of belonging. Our mission is to create a community centered on belonging. We seek to truly empower unique artistic voices by promoting trust and vulnerability. Creating a space that is safe, and where self-expression is nurtured and met with the open arms of understanding.
Oregon Coast School of Art offers art and community in tiny Gardiner
On a hike along the Oregon Coast, Emily Free Wilson and her husband, Matt Wilson, looked up a hillside scattered with houses and saw the old Gardiner middle school. The school, built in the 1950s north of Reedsport, was abandoned, spacious, and perfect – for its location and its rows of windows looking out over the Umpqua River. Artists would love it, they thought. Matt first noticed the building. Emily first noticed the sign out front: FOR SALE.
“I’d been trying to figure out a way to get my family moved over here for four years,” said Emily, 43, who grew up in Roseburg and whose father had retired to Winchester Bay. The 45,000-square-foot building was the key that unlocked her plan. “It was like our future was all laid out.”