Art Live: Making ends meet

Chester County Art Association (CCAA) has been around longer than most of us. At the start of 2020, in its 89th year, CCAA was thriving. The organization was hosting several exhibitions monthly, running classes and workshops in several locations, and much more. But lately the organization has been struggling.

CCAA Gallery

Executive Director Wendy Kershner recently shed some light on the issues saying, “When our facilities closed on March 15th, we never expected that seven months in we’d be out of funds and suspending programming. Having undertaken a major renovation in 2014-2016, our reserves were unexpectedly depleted. The irony is that after a campaign of business and procedural improvements plus new programming, we were thrilled to be back ‘in the black’ at the start of the year. We were properly staffed to further expand educational programming, and we had established numerous collaborations to reach new audiences. We had also completed an exciting plan to develop our outdoor spaces—including an outdoor amphitheater, sculpture gardens and community walking trails—to be announced for our 90th anniversary in 2021. And then the pandemic hit, and we had no reserves to fall back on. Thankfully COVID-19 grants helped us to keep our doors open, and we offered many new ways to engage with the community and bring in revenue.”

Free English Language Learners Art Program with Kennett Consolidated Kindergarten

For local residents who are unfamiliar with the organization, CCAA claims an impressive history. It was founded in 1931 by prominent artists and leaders in the Chester County community, including N.C. Wyeth, Christian Brinton and William Palmer Lear. The CCAA website includes more on the history, “…the original group met weekly to draw together and plan exhibits. Often these exhibits included the works of Andrew Wyeth, Horace Pippin, Tom Bostelle, Barclay Rubincam, Philip Jamison, Peter Sculthorpe and Harry Dunn.” These artists are some of the most beloved, accomplished and well-known in our area. The current main facility was built in 1953 after receiving a generous gift of land from Mary E. Page Allinson and W.W. “Chick” Laird, which made it possible for CCAA to have a permanent home in West Chester. Gifts from Stewart Huston and Alison Farmer Wescott facilitated the addition of a second gallery and several studios in 1974. Other renovations followed when it was economically feasible. To learn more about the history and timeline of CCAA visit here.

CCAA Banner Project for West Chester Senior Center, done with the Grand Friends program - seniors and elementary charter school neighbor

Kershner has led CCAA for over four years, leveraging her fine arts background and corporate business experience to help grow and expand the art center’s mission which is to educate, inspire and connect the people of Chester County to and through the arts. CCAA’s 50+ annual art exhibitions, along with lectures and artist talks, provide engaging dialogue and new learning opportunities. The art programs have continuously expanded for all ages; from toddlers to seniors, special needs teens and adults, and more. Classes are offered in painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, digital art, printmaking, mixed media, fiber arts and jewelry.

Specialty workshops - Metalsmithing Master Class with Sculptor Rob Sigafoos

Before mid-March, CCAA was reaching the communities of West Chester, Exton, Coatesville, Kennett Square and the West Grove/Jennersville area. Now, all in person classes have been suspended until sometime in 2021 and CCAA’s satellite locations are closed to the public, as is the main center. All scheduled exhibitions are being held virtually for now. Kershner said, “Sadly, registrations remained low for online and plein air classes, and individual donations were relatively few and far between.”

Asked about what she and the board are doing now to make sure the lights stay on, Kershner said, “We’re looking at new paths for sustainability so we can survive and thrive for another 90 years. These include partnerships and mergers as well as exploring our real estate options as our property is our only asset.”

Summer Art Campers

With such a rich history and long standing dedication through its board, staff, volunteers, members and donors to enhance the community with all of its programming, here’s hoping that CCAA can continue to carry on its founders’ legacy. In a recent artnet.com article, writer Sarah Cascone spoke with Zannie Voss, director for SMU (Southern Methodist University) DataArts, who co-authored a report, titled “In It for the Long Haul”. Voss echoes what a lot of folks in the arts are saying, “Arts and cultural organizations have historically played a role as places where people gather... Enough people have to care that you don’t go away because of the value you provide to your community.” If you are interested in supporting CCAA, there are several ways to do so. Visit here for a list of ways you can help. If you haven’t done so before, contributing to an arts center, vital to its community, is worth doing now.

Whatever you do this week, support the arts!!

About Constance McBride

A native of Philadelphia, Constance McBride lived in Arizona for 16 years, where desert observations made a transformative impact on her work as a research based visual artist. Passionate about contemporary art, she was actively engaged in the local arts community. She served as a board member for several art organizations, managed an artist collective/gallery space, curated and juried several exhibitions and wrote for two arts publications in Phoenix. She taught ceramics at Shemer Art Center and Museum and exhibited her work both locally and nationally. McBride returned to Pennsylvania in 2018 and resides in Chester Springs with her husband and two dogs. In West Chester, she serves as a board member at The Art Trust Gallery at Meridian Bank and teaches ceramics at Chester County Art Association. She also teaches at Clay on Main in Oley, PA. She is a member of American Craft Council, Philadelphia Sculptors, and Women’s Caucus for Art, Philadelphia Chapter.

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