Jamestown Arts Center achieves fundraising goal
So, the women founded the Jamestown Arts Center, an organization “that didn’t have a home,” according to Petrie.
The two women joined forces with Lisa Randall and five other board members. They started raising money and now the Jamestown Arts Center finally has a “center” to call home.
On Friday, the JAC made its last payment towards a $300,000 interest-free loan, which was bestowed upon them by an anonymous lender in December 2009. The building, located on Valley Street, was once a boat repair garage owned by Bill and May Munger of Conanicut Marine Services. JAC is now ready to remodel the structure and provide Jamestowners with the hub for artistic inspiration that Petrie and Congdon envisioned.
“There are around 250 artists and 50 RISD grads on the island,” said Petrie, a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design and president of the JAC. “There are tons of artists scattered all over Jamestown, and now all these groups can get together and have a hub for artists of all ages.”
Petrie and Vivi Valentine have been the primary fundraisers since JAC agreed to purchase the the building. To date, they have raised nearly $600,000. According to Randall, the center’s executive director, more than 200 individuals and dozens of foundations have donated to the JAC.
“It’s been incredibly successful in so little time,” Randall said. “It shows that there is a need for an arts center in Jamestown.”
Donations have ranged from $15 to five-figure donations. “We’d be crying because we had a $25,000 check in one hand, and a $25 check in the other,” Randall said. “Every little bit helped.”
Randall helped make everything come together, said Petrie. “She was our dream girl.”
Randall, who attended Emerson College and UMass-Boston and earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature, had a resume that Petrie thought would be perfect to lead the arts center. Randall was co-founder of Island Arts in Newport and served as its executive director for 14 years. She was also the director of development for the RiverzEdge Arts Project in Woonsocket.
Petrie invited Randall to a meeting to discuss the building on Valley Street.
“The first day we met she had a business plan,” Randall said. “I read through it and listened to them talking and thought, ‘They are really doing this.’ Then we came and saw the building. I said, ‘This is great. That’s it. I’m in.’”
“Seeing is believing,” Petrie added.
Although the center has been open and the site of occasional events, Randall says that activity has been sporadic, since there is much work to do. A full schedule of activities is not planned until after some renovations are completed. So far, the public reception has been enthusiastic. Three hundred people attended the JAC’s “pARTy Now” fundraiser in September. Nearly 50 people surprised the JAC staff and came ready to dance at a recent Salsa Night.
“There are moments when we are working really hard and we just hope people show up,” Randall said. “And they do. It was astounding.”
Petrie has a plan for every room, nook and cranny of the arts center. There will be a ceramics room, equipped with kilns and potter’s wheels, donated by Jamestowners Peter and Maria Flood, who bought the equipment from the Newport Potter’s Guild. There will be galleries, as well as rooms for painting, dancing and singing. They hope to sound proof the dance hall. JAC will also host design courses, according to Randall and Petrie.
Petrie, who is British and came to the United States to attend college, even has ideas for where the bathrooms will go. “The loos will go right here, near the reception desk,” she said, pointing to a spot near the front entrance. Loos, in England, refers to lavatories.
Petrie and Randall’s said renovation of the building will take place soon and they hope to have the first phase completed by the spring. They hope they won’t have to close the JAC at any point during restoration.
“We want to use the space as soon as possible,” Randall said. “We want to stay open during renovations, of course, with safety in mind.”
“It’s going to be like Extreme Makeover,” added Petrie.
The two have discussed working with many organizations – both on and off the island – including the Jamestown Philomenian Library, the Jamestown Gallery and the East Bay Met School in Newport.
The JAC also plans to offer summer camps for children and daycare programs so that parents and their kids can experience the arts in different aspects at the same time. JAC will also work with local colleges, providing local youth with internships and curriculum assistance.
“A lot of kids that apply to college, especially arts, don’t know what they need for their portfolio,” Petrie said. “We can talk to the colleges and see what they are looking for, and help them with their portfolios. We can also direct them which schools to consider, depending on their interests.”
Randall wants to offer a “No Experience Allowed Class.” Unlike children, she said, adults don’t feel comfortable trying new things. She said adults are afraid of failure, because they don’t have opportunities to fail. Randall says that the JAC should be a place that adults can visit and not be afraid to fail.
“I was very anti Salsa Night,” Randall said. “I’m not a bad dancer, but I don’t know how to salsa. I had to dance with my husband – or even worse, another man – and I had no idea what I was doing. I was failing. But now, I can’t wait for the next class. I’m rearing to go again.”
For Petrie, Congdon, Randall and the rest of the group, the Jamestown Arts Center has become a dream come true
“People have been amazing,” Petrie said. “Seeing is believing.”