2008-12-11 / News

Board members propose new Jamestown Arts Center

"We want this to be a hub for arts of all kinds."
By Eileen M. Daly

The old pump house, which served as the Jamestown Town Offices before the completion of the new Town Hall, is slated to be the centerpiece of the new Jamestown Arts Center if the project is approved by the Town Council. Photo from the Jamestown Historical Society collection The old pump house, which served as the Jamestown Town Offices before the completion of the new Town Hall, is slated to be the centerpiece of the new Jamestown Arts Center if the project is approved by the Town Council. Photo from the Jamestown Historical Society collection Jamestown Arts Center board members Elizabeth Congdon and Kate Petrie have a vision for the old town offices building and, oh, what a vision it is. "We've been looking for a site for the arts center forever," Congdon said. "When we found the old town offi ces buildings we knew it was a perfect place." Some of the particulars that make it a perfect site include the central location, easy accessibility and the fact that the buildings are, "beautiful old buildings that were obviously treasured at one time," Congdon said.

Both Congdon and Petrie referred to the main building's historical grandeur. "We found a picture of the main building in the historical society's archives," Petrie said. "The building was covered in ivy and it had a spire and little Christmas trees in front. We would really like to restore it to its former glory," she added.

Petrie, Congdon and the other board members (Diane Grippi, Barbara Hutchinson, Dori Hirsch and Jocelyn Donahue) have been working with designers Peter Twombly and Jim Estes to create a plan for the site. "We'd like to convert the main building into a combination of exhibition, studio, office and storage space. We envision the building behind it as a ceramic/painting studio and the third building as a ballet/drama/ music studio," Petrie said. "We want this to be a hub for arts of all kinds."

The group is hoping to make use of all of the buildings and property, including the courtyard behind the buildings. "Peter Twombly has designed a raised platform porch for the courtyard that will also serve as an outdoor stage. We think it really keeps with the original feeling of the buildings and that it will be a wonderful place for dramatic performances and other outside activities," Congdon said.

According to Congdon and Petrie there is no central place for the arts in Jamestown despite the fact that so many talented artists and teachers live here. "Right now, there is nowhere on the island for artists to gather. There is nowhere to paint or create ceramics or even for artists to teach. The idea is to create somewhere for all of us to come together," Petrie said.

"We have a lot of diverse groups here in Jamestown. We have the theater group, visual artists, and we have the piano guild, but we don't have any central space where everyone can come together," Congdon said.

One of the goals for the arts center, according to Petrie and Congdon, is to bring diverse groups of people together through art. "We'd like to have seniors alongside teens and make the center accessible to everyone. We believe that art transforms lives and we want that opportunity to be available to everyone here in Jamestown," Congdon said.

According to Petrie, the board would like Jamestown residents to have access to a quality arts center without having to leave the island. "Jamestown is such a beautiful location. It is a little jewel of an island and because of that, we will be able to offer something different than other communities like Portsmouth and North Kingstown," Petrie said. "Although those communities have wonderful art centers, we envision the Jamestown Arts Center as something that will be completely unique to the island," she said.

The proposal will be reviewed and voted on by the Town Council on Dec. 15, Congdon said. If the proposal is accepted, the next phase will be to raise the necessary capital for the renovations. "We have found that people are excited about this project and eager to help. We've already received a $25,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation for our capital campaign. We will also continue to work with Lynn Donaghue and Jeff Broadhead from Seaside Philanthropy in order to raise the necessary funds," Petrie said.

If all goes well, the board hopes to see the center open by the summer of 2010, Petrie said.

Anyone interested in supporting the project may contact Kate Petrie at 423-9684. The Jamestown Arts Center web address is www.jamestownartscenter.org.

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