Art Live: Community Art Center

Situated on a four acre estate built in 1889 by the Henry P. Dixon family, Community Arts Center (CAC) sits majestically on Plush Mill Road in Wallingford, PA.  The non-profit had numerous events and projects scheduled for 2020 but only one stayed on track – building a wood fired kiln. Executive Director Paul Downie explained, “It’s the only thing that stayed on schedule this year because it was already funded and it was outside.” For some, building a wood fired kiln might not seem like a priority to focus on during a pandemic but for this arts center, it made sense. The ceramics program at CAC wasn’t always its biggest, but over time it has become its most robust program. Downie shared a little more history, “The art center started in 1948 in another similar estate. After it was sold to PennDOT in 1967 for the Blue Route (I-476) planning, CAC bought this building in 1968 and moved over here.”

Wood fired kiln at CAC

The first major addition to the new property was the Beatrice S. Dallett Ceramic Arts Building in 1995. And, The Potters Guild has been an active partner to CAC since its inception. Many of its classes are taught by guild members. Wood fired pottery is the oldest method of firing clay and for Mark Tyson, a Potters Guild member, instructor at CAC and a clay purist, spearheading the effort was a dream for him.  According to Downie, it will now be a big part of the programming. “We’re still working out the kinks of how it interfaces with the rest of our ceramics program but we are excited.” In addition to the wood fired kiln, CAC has a soda, raku and several electric kilns. CAC offers classes in photography, printmaking and more. Painting and drawing enrollment is good too but ceramics keeps growing. Downie said, “I think it’s a trend bigger than us, but it is definitely pronounced here.” CAC also has a music series it dubbed ‘Friday Night Live’. Being a musician, Downie’s network is big. “We’ve been fortunate to have booked some relatively famous people. This fall we moved the concerts outside and it’s been really popular.”

The Painting Studio at CAC

When asked how CAC is surviving this year, Downie said, “It’s been a financial struggle for sure. A few people were temporarily laid off and one position remains suspended for the foreseeable future. We were closed from mid-March to mid-September. We didn’t do any on site summer programming. We had some online instruction for adults and teenagers but not for the kids and summer camp here is a big deal. Financially this has been the most painful and emotional issue. We usually have 700 registrations over an eight to nine week period so we lost a lot of revenue. We did organize one program for the kids: making 250 art kits that they could pick up and work with at home but that revenue was negligible and the labor was huge. I know some organizations held in person camp and online camp for young kids but I didn’t feel either of those options would be a positive experience, and I didn’t want bad memories attached to the art center. That was the choice we made. If we are still living with the virus next summer, we’ll hold in person summer camp because we know a lot more now about how it’s transmitted. Even if we have to deal with masks, we can do it.”

Friday Night Live Concert at CAC on the lawn - photo by Lisa Schaffer

In person classes started mid-September. To date there hasn’t been any [Covid-19] exposure but the main obstacle is people’s reluctance to come back.  “On the one hand, people who are here seem comfortable, and I haven’t gotten any negative feedback so hopefully the word is spreading that it’s safe. On the other hand, winter is coming. We’ll continue to do things on line and we are actually doing some classes in person and online.” Winter classes start this week at CAC. There are some exhibitions on view now too including a fascinating retrospective titled “Intimate Regard: Roger Anliker” in the Duke Gallery, through November 13th and a photography show of works by longtime CAC supporter Todd Swimmer in the Stairwell Gallery. The next “Friday Night Live”, a concert with local blues and jazz singer Lisa Chavous, is scheduled for November 13th. Downie is confident about CAC’s future. “Our philosophy is to minimize the financial pain, keep people engaged at the level we are at now, and slowly ramp that back up. We should be able to endure the losses and return to a thriving situation. That is the game plan.” For more information on CAC visit here.

'Peace Love and Happiness' by Randall Graham - at Gallery 222

Other art exhibits include Gallery 222 in Malvern who is hosting Randall Graham this month for a solo show titled “Peace, Love and Happiness”. Graham, who studied at The Carlin Academy of Fine Art and with Bo Bartlett, teaches traditional painting fundamentals at his studio in Malvern, where he paints some of the time. He also enjoys plein air painting and, has developed his own "en rain air" style; painting scenes while looking through a window of his minivan when it’s raining. According to Graham, the juxtaposition of abstract and reality creates emotional paintings which have become very popular with collectors. Visit here for all the details.

Number Yellow by Michele Green at Station Gallery

In Delaware, Station Gallery is featuring Michele Green this month with a series of new paintings inspired and infused by colors in nature and Rehoboth Art League is holding its annual Holiday Fair and Fine Craft Show live, this Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit here.

In Philly, Bertrand Productions at Globe Dye Works is hosting “NO FAIR”, an invitational including 20 renowned national artists who’ve had to rearrange schedules due to Covid-19 fair cancellations. It will feature jewelry, ceramics, vessels, furniture and more. To schedule an in-person visit, click here.

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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