Across the river in Vernon, Arts Center East stands in a quaint white colonial-style building. Built in 1927, the structure was originally used as a school and then as offices for the town Board of Education, but by the end of the century had become worn down and unusable. Through the efforts of town residents, Vernon received a state grant to renovate the historic building, and in June 2012 it was reincarnated as an arts center.
Seven years later, Arts Center East is a vibrant and active community arts organization. On top of gallery space for regional and local artists, the center offers dozens of classes and workshops to students of all levels and hosts live music and theater productions. Their Artisan Gift Shop provides a space for local artists to display and sell their work. Executive Director Jennifer Kowal uses the phrase “unique entity” to describe the center. “We mean different things to different people,” she said, “and we have a little of something for everyone.”
This summer is an exciting one for Arts Center East. The center has spent the beginning of the year working with a consultant in order to grow and improve the Artisan Gift Shop, which will bring “exciting changes and opportunities to this part of [the] organization and the local and regional artists [they] represent,” according to Kowal. In addition, the Academic Artists Association is holding their national exhibit at Arts Center East for the seventh year in a row. The show, the 69th Annual National Exhibition of Traditional Realism, is on exhibit June 2 through June 23. In July, a Mixed Media exhibit entitled “ANIMALIA” will be going on display, and a coinciding “Pet Boutique & Animal Craft Fair” will occur in August.
“It’s an opportunity to explore what sets you apart from others [and] allows you to see the world through someone else’s experiences.”
Arts Center East is also adding new classes to their repertoire in the coming months. This summer, artist Shauna Shane will be teaching drawing and watercolor classes, and the center is introducing a colored pencil class and their highly-anticipated ceramics program in the fall.
Kowal reiterates the importance of these classes and exhibits for the community. “Arts can express what you feel is important, and what brings joy to your life,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to explore what sets you apart from others [and] allows you to see the world through someone else’s experiences, and this is important given the ever-changing global society we currently live in.”
She adds that art can mean different things for different people, depending on how they choose to experience it. “Whether art is a part-time hobby or a life-long pursuit, whether individuals are active participants, or prefer to be spectators, the arts provide people a means of personal expression,” she said. “Many of us have jobs, relationships, or responsibilities that require certain behaviors or roles to be taken on. I see the arts…as an outlet from these roles and responsibilities.”
In the future, Kowal says that they would love to renovate the attic of the building into a designated theater space or another classroom, but for now she invites everyone to come to a class, exhibit, or performance, and if there is something an individual is interested in that is not currently offered, to reach out. “Art is found in every culture, dating back to the earliest recordings of human existence,” she said. “Arts Center East’s mission is to advance the arts for all. You may not be able to understand someone’s written or spoken language, but you can certainly understand their messages through artwork.”