Southern Hills Arts Council was formed on June 6, 1981 and incorporated as a non-profit organization on June 29, 1981.

The organization was envisioned as a coordinating group for the arts in Gallia, Jackson, Meigs, and Vinton Counties by Dr. Paul Hayes, who was then President of Rio Grande College. Hayes persuaded arts leaders from the four counties to join in the umbrella group. These leaders included the remnants of an arts organization that had flourished and waned in Jackson County. Hayes gave space and part-time personnel to the emerging agency.

In 1983 the Council entered the Ohio Arts Council's Long Term Assistance Program (LTAP), under the Minority Arts division. This program sent a consultant to the group to assist in organizational growth. During this year a CART week was held in Jackson County which depended heavily on volunteers to organize and facilitate the various arts activities held during this week. This program has become our Celebration of the Arts Week, now held in the bridge week between July and August.

In 1984 the free Community Arts Newsletter was begun. The Newsletter features information about the Council, its members, associated organizations and artists, and a calendar of arts events within a comfortable driving distance. It is published quarterly. Circulation has grown to 2,100.

In 1985, Southern Hills assumed sponsorship of the Foothills Art Festival which was begun by Jeanne & Louis Jindra at their winery on Camba Road. The Festival continued at this location, first inside the winery and later in two huge tents on the winery's grounds, until the winery closed and we moved the event to its current Canter's Cave location.

In 1986, with the guidance of a second LTAP consultant, Southern Hills underwent a complete self-assessment and reorganization. Hayes was no longer at Rio Grande and its new president did not share his enthusiasm for the program. Staff and space were withdrawn. The Council had already experience difficulty in fund raising, since our letterhead had a Rio address and we were identified as a college adjunct. During this year of evaluation, meetings were held in the counties to assess our strongest support. It was clear that the center was in Jackson. A new constitution was drawn and this mission was defined as “to enhance the quality of life by encouraging and stimulating the practice and appreciation of the arts”

Our service area was delineated as “Jackson County, Ohio and the surrounding area.” The intent was not to limit participation but to build on the strong county support.

Thanks to a generous offer from Wellston business leaders Pauline and Oryn Johnson, we opened Studio 93 on South Pennsylvania Avenue. The name alluded to the fact that State Route 93 is the thread that links the county together and satisfied our concern that the public understand that our efforts are directed at all residents. Art classes were begun. Home tours were launched.

In 1988 we began Free Summer Arts & Crafts Classes for Children. We worked to forge alliances with governments, businesses, and civic organizations in Jackson, Oak Hill, and Wellston to raise the necessary funds. The program, in modified form, continues to this day to stimulate the creative energies in our youth during the summer hiatus from school.

In this same year, we initiated the Jackson County High School Art Show, an annual exhibition of the best work from students in Jackson, Oak Hill, and Wellston High Schools. At first this exhibit revolved among the three communities now it has a permanent home in the Markay Gallery. Cash prizes are awarded with the Best of Show given in memory of Lilly O. Goldstayn, artist, teacher, and gardener.

1988 began our sponsorship of the Apple Festival Art Show, held in conjunction with the Apple Festival. It was then held at the Jackson City Library and only during that week. Now it is part of the regular Gallery schedule at the Markay with invitations mailed to nearly 100 local artists and artisans to showcase our homegrown talent.

In 1990 we took our first step as a presenter when we were successful in securing an Ohio Arts Council grant to bring "Out of the Red Brush" to Jackson High School. We sold out the performance and experienced great success. During this year, we moved Foothills Art Festival to Canter's Cave 4-H Camp and Studio 93 into a small building at 2 Evans Place, Jackson, graciously provided by Accent II Realty.

In 1991, thanks to the generosity of Phil Bowman, we opened the Arts Annex, on Main Street in Jackson, across from the Courthouse, for a period of 6 months. It gave us great visibility. We scheduled exhibitions, classes, play readings, and receptions in the space.

In 1992 we assumed sponsorship of a Play Reading Circle in conjunction with Dr. Greg Miller and the University of Rio Grande.

In 1993 the Council sponsored the establishment of the Southern Ohio Community Band, under the direction of Dr. Richard Berry.

1994 saw the disbanding of the Community Band and the loss of the Play Reading Circle. Hands-on arts activities directed toward children were added to Foothills Art Festival. Studio 93 was moved to 237 Main Street and we began paying rent. This intensified our search for a home. Classes were suspended due to lack of space.

In 1995 the search for a home continued with focus on restoring buildings in conjunction with either Jackson or Wellston. Consultant Rick Jones, Fitton Center for the Arts, Hamilton, helped us define our goals. A feasibility study was done with a $4,225 design arts grant from the Ohio Arts Council, and the abandoned Markay Theatre in Jackson was selected.

In 1996 a lease agreement was reached with the City of Jackson. We pay $1 per year and in return it is our task to renovate, maintain, and operate the Markay. Council members set out to return this Art Deco gem of a building to good operating condition with an eye to renovation not restoration. However, it was always the intent to save whatever original features we could. Furthermore, we wished to work without accruing debt.

We applied for Phase I restoration funding from the Appalachian Public Facilities Task Force and were awarded $123,000, thanks to assistance from John Carey who has served us at the state level as Representative and Senator. First business was to stablize the badly deteriorating edifice, then move to creating, in phases, spaces usable for the arts.

We held the Markay’s grand re-opening June 1, 1997 as a community cultural arts center. The lobby had been transformed into a Gallery where we hold 9 visual and cultural arts exhibitions annually. The former commercial space on the south side had been turned into a Meeting Room/Lending Arts Library. In addition, we had created an office, handicapped accessible rest room, and small kitchen.

All these spaces are well used. The Gallery provides a welcoming space for a variety of public and private functions. With card tables and chairs, we can accommodate many different kinds of events. The D. M. Davis Male Voice Choir, under the direction of Wilbur McCormick, has a home within these walls. Members have launched their own campaign to purchase a Baby Grand Piano for the theatre. A Writers Guild is growing by leaps and bounds and meets the 4th Monday of each month.

Fundraising is ongoing. We have tapped state, federal, and all other likely public funding sources. We have been generously supported by a host of supportive private citizens.

We are particularly pleased that we were able to restore to their full glory the 6 larger-than-life bas-relief figures that were created by Frank Boerder in 1940 when the Chakeres chain purchased the Markay from local owners. They depict what people did in Jackson County at the time. We have coal miner, foundryman, railroader, farmer, woman hoeing a garden, and woman with basket of apples. They are important artistically and historically. They will be reproduced in the bridge abutments when the overpass is built over Route 35 at McCarty Lane.

Things have been happening at a furious pace since 2013. A brand new state-of-the-art sound system is nearly complete. It was funded by the Stockmeister Family Foundation with installation courtesy of local band Crossroad Station. Robert Allen masterminded the system and will soon teach us how to operate it.

Custom made black velour drapes now set off the stage and provide options for actors to move about backstage without being seen. Actors can also exit stage left and appear stage right without being detected. When not needed for entrances and exists, the middle set of drapes can be shifted to create a cyclorama effect.

A wonderful lighting system has been installed. A follow spot gives added flexibility in terms of covering performers. Several folks are in the process of learning to operate the system.

Four original chandeliers have been completely restored to their glory. The brass frames were stripped and polished. The electrical systems were rewired and connected to the tech booth. 64 new glass panels were created. Half of them had the original floral and ribbon pattern etched into them. They look spectacular.

The Ladies Room nears completion. The original marble partitions between the stalls have been stripped of their 8 layers of paint and sanded. Cracks were filled and they’ve been finished with a protective layer. The original terrazzo floor has been restored. In the anteroom, a lovely Lady Elizabeth settee invites ladies to relax. A Victorian mirror from the Laura Hank Hilton collection allows them to see how lovely they look.

280 seats were custom manufacture with rosewood backs and blue fabric. They blend in harmoniously with all the colors in the Auditorium. Best of all, they are comfortable.

A baby grand piano, courtesy of Reverend David and Carolyn Downton, has just arrived on the Markay stage.

As of the middle of 2014, the contractor estimates we need another $232,500 to arrive at our goal of a first live performance.