On Friday, December 8th, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce was thrilled to perform a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the Springfield Art Gym’s One-Year Anniversary and Open House. The Art Gym is a classic Springfield tale of ingenuity and ambition. A group of likeminded community members began discussing the concept of a shared community art space. Ideas and inspiration were shared, and over time the group became more specifically focused. Wendi Germain and Mona Frye were very committed to the endeavor and jumped into action, putting their own money on the line to open the first storefront incarnation of the Springfield Art Gym in July of 2016 at 3 Main Street in downtown Springfield. Volunteers were invited to come in and join the team, which is when Elizabeth Meuse jumped on board and the three ladies began creating and building the shared ideas of a community art space where everyone was free to exercise creativity! Their focus is to offer a space where everyone is welcome and safe, classes are affordable (and sometimes free!), and to give people a place where they can be involved in the community by either volunteering or meeting new friends.
Space was a big challenge. Right away, the Art Gym started to outgrow its footprint. The coordinators knew they needed a place that was visible and easily accessible, that felt safe and was financially feasible. They kept their eyes open and listened to patron feedback, and eventually a new location at 62 Clinton Street became available, and so the Gym was moved to its current location in January of 2017. The space is large, has ample parking, is well lit, and affordable, and it’s working out great! Meuse admits that keeping things running with only volunteers is tough. They’ve had many volunteers, including the three coordinators who oversee the larger logistical aspects of the Art Gym. Once they got organized in the new space and created a more formal process for how they wanted to see things run, they sought feedback from their volunteers and are building a practice that aims to suit everyone. The Springfield Art Gym is a community driven space, transforming via the feedback of all who visit. The organizers learn, adapt, and grow to meet the needs of the community. Meuse explained, “It’s not ‘our space,’ its everyone’s space.
The Art Gym’s classes are designed for everyone, from the folks who think they “aren’t artists,” to those who have lots of experience but may want to learn something new. The coordinators want classes that use a large array of materials that others may have never used before, like beads, wire, paint, paper, and clay. They have classes for children, women, families, work groups, sip ’n’ paints, and more. Use paints, learn to “dot,” Zentangle, draw, or whatever inspires you. If they don’t offer it and you want it, let them know! They offer FREE Art Nights once a month on the 2nd Friday of the month, they have open art hours on Thursdays 9am -1pm and Wednesdays 1pm -6pm, where folks can explore the planned activities of the day. There is a monthly calendar showing the class offerings that people can register for. And they are always open to folks offering to volunteer their time as class facilitators where they can share their skills with others.
The Springfield Art Gym recently received a Promise Community Grant, to work with the community to offer family-friendly art opportunities where everyone in the family can participate in the experience. No TV or electronics, getting out into the community, meeting others, feeling safe and welcome regardless of life situation. The Art Gym also partnered with All-4-One during the summer and as part of their afterschool program this year, to offer art classes at the school and at the Gym. The coordinators have also been working on a Buildings and Grounds grant through the state of Vermont, to do improvements on the space. They are always growing, coming up with new class ideas, bringing in new materials, tools, and more people to the space. The Art Gym’s initial mission was to move to a bigger, more functional space, which they did quickly, but which also impacted their ability to afford the streamlined functional design they envisioned. Their focus was getting classes up and running to increase revenue so that they could eventually transform the space into exactly what they wanted, that would meet the needs of the community. With the help of the Promise Grant and the Buildings and Grounds grant, they have been able to hire a design consultant to help them put our thoughts for the space down on paper. They have a beautiful floor plan that opens up the space to accommodate more participants, allows for a quiet, relaxing lounge and coffee area, more natural lighting, and lots of storage. The coordinators can’t wait for the community to see their new space in the coming year!
Goals for the future include the option to sell their creations and also open a supply store. The original idea was to do this in the Art Gym, but they are always open to other ventures. They are working on creating a 3-month class listing so folks have ample time to plan ahead for classes that they’ve always wanted to try. They would like to eventually have a paid part-time coordinator position. The three coordinators currently work and volunteer throughout the community on various other projects, and as the Gym grows, it has become apparent that they need a dedicated person to focus on the work of the Art Gym more than the staff has time available. They are encouraging community members to become class facilitators so they can offer more opportunities to explore different art modalities to the public. And handicap accessibility will happen in the future!
If you have not already, make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to stop by the Springfield Art Gym at 62 Clinton Street to exercise your creativity! For more information, visit their website: https://artgymvt.weebly.com/ And be sure to Follow them of Facebook to get updates about classes and events!