Op/Ed: Bitter sweet at CCAA

As the Chester County Art Association's executive director, it has been my great pleasure to guide this amazing organization. Founded in 1931 by a group of art leaders — including N.C. Wyeth — the art center has been located near downtown West Chester since 1952. Tens of thousands of former students have happy memories of summer art camps and fabled dance classes, and highlights include revered art exhibitions, celebrity visitors, and the launch of famous art careers.

CCAA offers beginner, intermediate and advanced classes for ages 3 to 93 plus workshops by master artists and introductory programs like ‘Clay & Chardonnay’.

For all levels of artists, we provide opportunities to exhibit and sell artwork in monthly group shows. To assist with careers in the arts, we provide a ‘Business of Art’ series, gift shops, and satellite galleries exhibit options, plus a website service.

We’ve positively impacted staff, interns, volunteers, board members, artists, teachers, students, campers, families, supporters, donors, the Chester County community, and visitors to the greater Philadelphia region.

Yet after 89 years, we are struggling to survive. When our facilities closed on March 15, we never expected that we’d be out of funds and suspending programming seven months later. After a major renovation from 2014 to 2016, our reserves were unexpectedly depleted. Following many business and procedural improvements plus new programming, we were thrilled to be back ‘in the black’ at the start of this year. We were properly staffed to continue expanding our educational programming, and we had established numerous collaborations to reach new audiences. We also completed an exciting plan to develop our outdoor spaces—including an outdoor amphitheater, sculpture gardens, and community walking trails—to be announced in celebration of our 90th anniversary in 2021.

Then the pandemic hit, and we had no reserves to fall back on. Thankfully COVID-19 grants helped us find new ways to engage with the community. Sadly, registrations were low for online and plein air classes, and individual donations have been few and far between. We’re now 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.

Having lived near Merion Station, I saw first-hand that The Barnes Foundation was not appreciated by its neighbors until its move to Philadelphia’s Parkway was announced. Although there are many differences, there are also similarities. My hope is that our community can rally behind our amazing art center before there are irreversible changes tied to our survival.

Although bitter-sweet, change is inevitable. I’m excited as our staff and board work towards new ways to continue to champion the arts in our community.

Wendy Kershner, Executive Director
Chester County Art Association

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