SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South County Art Association reopened its doors last Friday and things are already looking brighter for the gallery – both literally and figuratively.
“It’s fantastic,” SCAA Executive Director Kathleen Carland said. “It’s like a whole new world, you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it before and after.”
The renovations, which saw the Kingston gallery shut its doors for all of March and over half of April, were done to allow for more natural light and open air by uncovering the windows on the front of the historic Helme House for the first time in over 50 years and adding a panel system to increase hanging space for pieces in the gallery.
“I never would’ve imagined that just removing a panel or two could have such a dramatic affect. It was a project that we had to envision based on the space, so we’re happy with the way it turned out, because the room is large and it looks large, but when you take a panel and put it out 90 degrees, you don’t want it to come too far out into the room either. But I think it came out just perfectly,” Carland said. “I’m just thrilled; I couldn’t be happier really. The light is beautiful and our exhibits are only up for about a month, so we don’t have to worry about the sunlight doing any damage per se, because they are not up for a long time and it just seems to lift people spirits.”
Additionally, the renovations allow for the SCAA to hold more indoor classes, as the downstairs windows can create more open air flow and ventilation – important factors with social distancing requirements still in place – while also moving around the current class setups in a way Carland sees as more beneficial to the students.
“We are re-purposing our pottery studio,” Carland said. “We have to move wheels upstairs, which was the paint/draw studio, so now we’re having all of our classes over in the gallery sharing the space with a beautiful art, which is not a bad thing.”
On top of that, it also gives the community more of an insight into what’s going on inside the Helme House gallery, while also making it look more lively.
“One of the main, beautiful things is that people who walk by now can look in and they see art and they see a space that is bright and alive,” Carland said. “Before, the panels were over every window except for a couple, and it was just a dark space and not an image you really want to convey for a beautiful art gallery.”
Despite the countless hardships and struggles brought on by the pandemic, Carland says the SCAA has been fortunate that it can use the time to make some renovations and changes for the better, both for themselves and their members.
“It’s amazing to me that so many good things have come about (at the SCAA) because of the pandemic,” Carland said. “We found that we were investing in the organization in a very purposeful way to meet challenges. For example, we have grants written to help the organization pay for all of these renovations, which hopefully could cover the whole cost, but the board felt very strongly that we need to invest in the safety that these renovations would provide for students and for the improvement to the overall look of the gallery.”
That doesn’t mean that everything has been smooth sailing for the SCAA by any means, but Carland feels more and more that better days are coming soon.
“We still struggle,” Carland said. “I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture because we have not yet been able to match our normal revenues for classes and things of that type, but we’re coming back.”
Central to that comeback effort for the SCAA is the ability to hold classes again, something which Carland says “means everything” after having had to do them almost exclusively over Zoom or other virtual platforms for the past year – and being unable to do them at all over the past two months due to the renovations.
“We can see our way forward to just, really, new opportunities,” Carland said. “The classes are filling up really well. We have double the space that we’re going to have available for the summer classes, so instead of just the two tents we’ll have three which will – now with the expanded guidelines from the state – we’ll be able to offer space for up to 12 students.”
It’s watching these classes come back, largely in-person, that’s giving Carland hope for the future.
“We can feel ourselves coming back,” Carland said. “We have some limits to the pottery program on how many people we can support, but we think by fall hopefully we’ll be able to have full capacity.”
The gallery reopened Friday for the debut of the SCAA’s first show since February, the annual Open Juried Photography Exhibition, which this year features 55 pieces curated by Warwick-based photographic artist Shane Gutierrez.
First prize in the exhibit went to Stephan Goldstein for “Piñon Pine, Utah,” while second place went to Tiffany Medrano for “New Normal” and third place to “Backstreet, Edfu, Egypt” by George Salter. Honorable mentions went to Sarah Lawhorne for “Dark Days,” Pam Lander for “Nightfall” and Jean Duffy for “Desolation.”
The exhibit will run through May 15 during the gallery’s normal hours of 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. The next exhibit, “Driven to Abstraction,” will run May 20 through June 12 and will be curated by Providence-based artist Theresa Girard. Entries for the open juried all media exhibit will be accepted in person at the SCAA from May 12-16.
Overall, Carland says she feels like there’s been a yearning from the local art community to get back out and see and experience shows and partake in art classes.
“We’ve been going full throttle here trying to make sure that we are not just surviving but thriving, and seeking every opportunity that we can to maximize all of the wonderful things about the (SCAA) and the members and the students, and it’s just been a wonderful thing to see people,” Carland said. “I think they’ve been craving the interaction of learning and participating in the arts, and it’s a very healing way of spending your time, whether you’re in the midst of a pandemic or coming out of one, I think there’s no better way to spend some of your very valuable time.”
The SCAA is also planning on hosting a Spring Pottery and Art Sale on May 29 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., similar to their annual Pottery and Art Sale in the fall, with a rain date of May 31.
“We’ll have lots of art demos and there will be a lot going on here that day,” Carland said.
Art classes for the spring and summer still have open spots and anyone interested in signing up can do so by visiting southcountyart.org/classes.
The South County Art Association is located in the historic Helme House at 2587 Kingstown Rd. in South Kingstown and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays. For more information, visit southcountyart.org.