An Artist’s Community in Connecticut – Kate Themel

This weekend I was fortunate enough to visit the Farmington Valley Arts Center (FVAC) in Avon, Connecticut. A friend of mine had some pieces in FVAC’s show “Art on the Line”. After viewing the artwork in the Fisher Gallery, we walked around the campus and visited open studios.

The grounds are beautiful and utterly inspiring; trees, wild flowers and nature trails surround several red brick buildings, and all the studios have large windows; a covered walkway connects them.

There was no organized tour, but people were encouraged to visit any or all of the 20 working studios. Each artist was there to personally answer questions or speak with visitors. The caliber of work is incredible – everything from traditional oil paintings to something that I can only describe as “dynamic particled sculpture suspended from the ceiling” (check out Robin Mobiles studio 3B if you ever get a chance).

But more impressive than the works of art were the people of FVAC. Everyone has this exciting, creative, contagious energy surrounding them, administrative staff as well as studio artists. One painter told me that she has grown so much being in this artistic-group environment rather than working alone in her home studio. I could completely understand what she meant. This was only my first visit, lasting about 3 hours, and I was so energized and inspired I felt the need to go back and get to work right away… who cares that it was nearly 10:00 at night!

This is a rare and special place. I’m not sure if I can do it justice in words. It felt like a family of artists, not just people renting space in the same building. They really work together, teaching each other new techniques, offering suggestions, critiques, or just the company of like-minded people. As you might imagine, they are careful about the artists who are invited to join their community. To rent a studio you must first go through an interview & jury review. But even though it is a relatively small, close-knit group, I never felt unwelcome or excluded.

I was grateful to meet everyone. Just to know that this place exists is inspiring to me. Marty Rotblatt, Executive Director, told me that they had a very successful fiber arts show a few months back and are planning another one in the fall. I made sure to get my name on their mailing list & I’ll post a call for entries when I have more info. If anyone is now or will be in the Farmington, Connecticut area anytime soon, I highly recommend visiting FVAC.

Are there communities like this in your area? It might be nice to know, in case I find myself traveling in your neck of the woods. I hope you have a place that inspires you and captures your imagination. Better still, if you find other artists there who are doing the same. Click on the link for more info & directions to FVAC.


8 Responses to “An Artist’s Community in Connecticut – Kate Themel”

  1. 1 Phil October 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    There is a NEW online community in Connecticut for artists and anyone that has any form of artistic expression. You can access the page and join here:

  2. 2 Sheila May 16, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve just returned from a 3 day retreat with 7 other quilters. Like June, I’ve not established a group or community locally, work mostly in isolation and depend heavily on my internet connections for support, info and friendship. The retreat reminded me how much I need the actual contact over an extended time frame.

    This particular group of women do not do the art quilt thing, and I didn’t take any of my art quilt things to work on. And yet this was a valuable experience that has rejuvenated me to work on the art quilt things now that I’ve returned. I was reminded about the way I behave in such a setting as opposed to how I work at home. First and foremost, these women motivated me to get to work because they set right up and got to work. They don’t have the luxery I do of working on their quilting any old time since they all work and/or have kids to take care of. So their attitude is always to not waste a minute! So while I was happy to kick back and chat when I first arrived, I soon allowed their activity to instill a little guilt in me and I pulled out something to work on while I chatted. This was a good thing.

    The second thing about that kind of environment is the opportunity it provides for acquiring multiple points of view when solicited. I was doing my usual waffling with a design issue. It didn’t matter whether or not I took any of the specific advice offered; what mattered was that by hearing other’s take on my problem, I could finally move past my waffling and come up with an even better solution than the ones I’d been considering. Decisions made, I could tune out what else was happening in the room and get my final designs drawn out.

    And of course, it’s always nice to have a cheering squad in the wings when you have that triumphal moment.

    I can see how an artist community would give a similar stimulous to the creative process and push one along just by virtue of the close proximity to others working away, yet perhaps provide a bit more privacy than the retreat situation. There’s just no substitute for face to face interaction, at least for me, or the occasional working in close proximity with other artists.

  3. 3 kate May 15, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Hi Angela,
    This community is about 45 minutes from my house. So it’s not exactly an easy day-to-day commute, but easily accessible with some planning. So it was more of a field trip and information-gathering for me.
    Thinking long-term: one of my goals is to rent a studio and work along side artists in just such a community. At the moment however, budget and time commitments make it impractical for me to apply. But when I am ready to take that step, I will look to FVAC first.

  4. 4 Angela Moll May 14, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Maybe, June, you wouldn’t be on the computer so much then. So I guess we are lucky that you don’t have this kind of setting and we get to enjoy the Ragged Cloth Cafe 🙂

    Art school is another way to have such a community for a while. Or artists residencies. There are ways for us, isolated artists, to get a taste of this kind of community, but you are definitely very lucky, Eileen.

    Kate, is this co-op in your vicinity? Are you thinking about applying to it, or was this more of a field trip for you?

  5. 5 June May 14, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I think a daily interaction would be much different than the high-key of workshops like QSDS. There’s something about the quotidian, when you can borrow a stapler or ask about varnishing a painting. Alas, I don’t have such a community, although I have lots of other kinds of artistic exchanges and groupings — like Ragged Cloth, come to think of it.

    In fact, I’d have to say that the internet, in all its many facets, has become, for me, the alternative to the building full of artists. I belong to many many email lists, read some art blogs regularly and lots of art blogs and friend blogs irregularly, and have a couple of blogs that I contribute to, including my own. So if I need to know about varnish, I can usually find some knowledgeable soul who will help out. Borrowing a stapler is a bit more difficult:-)

    Maybe if I were in an artist’s cooperative studio setting, I wouldn’t be on the computer as much…..?

  6. 6 kate May 14, 2008 at 6:14 am

    Eileen, I think you have the same attitude as the artists at FVAC. They all seemed to feel lucky to be there & completely excited by the diversity of art around them. What a blessing!

  7. 7 eileen May 13, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I’m a member of a large fiber art co-op (about 60 members) that has space in the Torpedo Factory – a three story building in Alexandria, Virginia, consisting of studio and gallery spaces. (Yes, it really used to be a torpedo factory, it is right on the Potomac just downriver from all those white stone buildings in Washington.) It’s been a couple of years but I still pinch myself when I am there, to be in such a space with so much creativity and cool stuff!

    Washington DC also has a temporary “happening” for artists, called Art-O-Matic (not to be confused with the artomat dispensing machines). This endeavor rents a huge, empty or nearly-finished office building in the metro area, and lets artists have at it. There is no jurying. There are floors and floors of beautiful and crazy things, and performance art too. After a few weeks it is over. I went to it last year and enjoyed it, but after about 5 floors you get a bit burnt-out from looking. Here’s the website. Last year they included the “peep show” contest finalists, sponsored by The Washington Post (marshmallow peep dioramas) too.

  8. 8 Clairan May 13, 2008 at 10:39 am

    It’s truly energiZing to be around a number of working artists in a community — even if it’s only a community of some days centered around a workshop. As artists we generally work in isolation — and need the solitude. But it can be isolating. I always find it gives my creativity and thought processes a real boast to spend some intense “quality time” with other fiber artists at QSDS or Fabrications or, this year, I will go to Split Rock for 5 days. An oasis!

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