The rebirth of the Chaffee Art Center: Creativity, collaboration, revitalization

Photographer Evie Lovett gives an artist's talk at the  Chaffee Downtown Gallery on Merchants Row in Rutland. (Albert J. Marro photo)

Photographer Evie Lovett gives an artist’s talk at the Chaffee Downtown Gallery on Merchants Row in Rutland.
(Albert J. Marro photo)

By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
CORRESPONDENT 

Chaffee Art Center Executive Director Margaret Creed Barros has a vision: “To see both galleries become walking destinations for people out enjoying the streets of Rutland.”

Chaffee’s President William Tracy Carris, Esq. also has a vision: “To be the premiere arts organization in the county … that will bring in all people of different generations and tastes.”

Both visions advance Rutland as a place of renewal, connection and creativity.

New business models are showing up around the world. They are based on collaboration and cooperation. They are about sharing knowledge and expertise and profits. And they encourage communal or circular growth rather than the old paradigm of “one man at the top” pyramid.

The Chaffee is moving toward this new model. “In the past, the Chaffee did not make itself approachable for collaboration and joint projects,” Carris says. “That has changed.”

Change takes creativity — innovative ways of thinking, fresh visions for a different way of being. And it takes art itself. Barros agrees: “When any of us become moved by art we develop inspiration to change or adjust our life in some way … Creativity is a powerful force for change.” Artists and other creative thinkers, then, are ideal guides to usher in a new future for both the Chaffee and Rutland.

Barros was recently hired by Chaffee’s board of directors under the leadership of Carris because of her combined background in the arts and business. “We are very pleased with the decision to take (her) on board,” says Carris.

A Rutland native who entered the art world at 8 years old with a winning poster submission, Barros went on to attend art classes offered by the Rutland Recreation Department and then ran summer classes for them as a college student.

As a high school student at Mount St. Joseph Academy, she served as art editor of her class yearbook. Later, while working at Rutland Middle and High Schools, she oversaw yearbook publication and taught students digital photography.

Art has been a serious aspect of Barros’ life and she believes that this fact, combined with her past work in communications for VELCO and recent outreach work for BROC, led the board to see her ability to “embrace and encourage growth for the Chaffee during this time of positive change and expansion.”

“I am excited because I see this as an opportunity to give back to the Rutland community, which I care about and feel has so much to offer both to its residents and to visitors,” says Barros.

Chaffee Art Center Executive Director Margaret Barros. (Anthony Edwards photo)

Chaffee Art Center Executive Director Margaret Barros.
(Anthony Edwards photo)

The changes and expansions Barros is referring to are extensive. The hiring of Barros is just one of many. The opening of a new downtown Rutland gallery, fundraising to match a federal grant for a total $160,000, and the beginnings of electrical and weatherization renovations at the South Main Street location were initiatives that Carris points out were completed by a “hands-on” board.

“The board deserves a lot of credit for taking on these projects and successfully completing them,” Carris says.

According to Carris, he has “big plans” for the Chaffee, which he emphasizes do not include moving out of the South Main Street building. Acknowledging a “huge void” in Rutland County for the teaching, sharing and promotion of the arts, he believes it is Chaffee’s mission to fill that void. Using both locations to their best advantage, Carris envisions more art classes for both children and adults, writing classes and forums, and film, dance and drama productions.

In the immediate future, once the first series of renovations are completed at South Main, Carris wants to put interim gallery coordinator and certified art teacher, Kristen Partesi, to work. Other teachers will be found and classes set up.

“I want the building buzzing with activity this summer,” he says.

Down the road, Carris envisions acquiring more space for classes such as ceramics, glassblowing, blacksmithing, sculpture and painting.

As for the downtown gallery, both Carris and Barros see its opening as a vital step towards integrating the arts into downtown Rutland’s revitalization. Bringing visitors into town is key to this growth, and Barros believes the new classes, programs and exhibits will be the needed pull. As Barros proudly points out, the gallery is bright with huge windows that “invite people walking by to look in.”

Carris quotes a visitor who said “it feels like we stepped off the streets of Vermont into a New York City gallery.”

Bringing art into a community has been proven to have a distinctly positive effect on communities and their revitalization efforts. “It is undeniable that communities that invest in arts and cultural initiatives results in increased property values, revenues and jobs,” Carris says.

The Chaffee Art Center on South Main Street in Rutland.  (file photo)

The Chaffee Art Center on South Main Street in Rutland.
(file photo)

“Vermont already has an incredible reputation for a certain quality of life,” he says. “The way I see it, the only piece to that puzzle that is missing is investment in the arts and cultural activities.”

And for Carris, collaboration is fundamental to this piece. “The business community needs to understand the far reaching benefits of investing in local arts programs … Without organizations like the Chaffee, it is hard for businesses to attract the type of workers needed to the area (who are looking for) cultural events, art shows and a vibrant downtown.”

Some organizations have stepped up. Collaborations with the Downtown Rutland Partnership, the Creative Economy and MKF Properties, among others, have already resulted in the completion of the Opera House mural last summer and the opening of the new gallery. Looking ahead, Carris hopes to integrate the gallery’s shows with Paramount Theatre events, Friday Night Live and other Rutland happenings.

According to Barros, creativity and new ideas flow when humans are inspired, and that the “creative by-products are what connect us.” For her, a walk that ends at a beautiful gallery is one such way to “invite inspiration and change.”

Carris believes that under the “renewed vigor” of new leadership, his vision of the Chaffee promoting “the arts in every possible means” is a vital component to the success of this area.

“(The) Chaffee is now in a position to step up and take the lead in this area of revitalization that can possibly make or break … the effort toward a renaissance of downtown and the county,” he says.

Contact Joanna Tebbs Young at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jtebbsyoung.

 

CHECK IT OUT

Chaffee Downtown Gallery: 75 Merchants Row, Rutland. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Online: chaffeeartcenter.org, facebook.com/chaffeeartcenter.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com.

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