The Rural We: Judith McElhone

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Rural Intelligence, Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Photos courtesy of Rural Intelligence

Torrington native Judith McElhone is Executive Director of Five Points Gallery, a small contemporary art gallery that has helped with the revitalization of downtown. The lifelong artist was originally brought on as just a consultant when some Torrington residents wanted to do something about all the vacant storefronts downtown. Fueled by her love of her hometown and art, Judith “accidentally opened a gallery,” claiming it was just one of those things in life that came along at the perfect time. 

There were a lot of empty storefronts in Torrington. The Arts and Culture Commission initiated an idea to utilize them as temporary artist showcases. However, there were no artists involved with the project so they asked me to come in to consult. I’ve been painting since I was 10, teach painting at Northwestern Community College and have always had a studio in Torrington. I really believe in my town so I agreed to help with the project, thinking it would only be short term. I genuinely thought I would just attend one meeting. In June 2012, we found a space on 33 Main Street that was used as storage space and we went in and cleaned it. We didn’t have an artist call out, so I had to fill space. I reached out to a lot of my professional artist friends and asked them to show in Downtown Torrington. Honestly, I had to twist a lot of arms. One of them asked, “Why would I want to come to Torrington?” I said I would put you with good artists. And I did; I gathered a lot of incredible work. It turned out spectacularly and got so much attention.

That fall, the Torrington Downtown Partners offered free rent and utilities, and installed an alarm system for the gallery to stay in place year round. In December 2012, we decided to incorporate it as a non-profit and bring in a Board of Directors. This is what lead to Five Points as we know it.

We bring contemporary art to Downtown Torrington. Many artists who are established and have shown in New York City don’t have a place to show in Connecticut. There is limited space for that, which is what makes Five Points so special. Torrington received an artists grant for a no-interest loan that would go to a landlord who would develop space for art venues. So we were able to expand from 800 square feet with no sink or even a closet, to a 3380-square-foot space with bathroom, prep kitchen and storage space. But the most important aspect of the expansion has been the glass walls that reach out to the community. They’ve really helped establish the gallery and we get great feedback and interaction from people on the street and those who drive down Water Street.

In a very short time, we’ve become one of the most respected small galleries in the state. One of our interns ran into an old artist friend from Saratoga who asked, “how do I get into Five Points?” Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture for the Museum of Modern Art in NYC is a Torrington native and has been a tremendous supporter. She’s spoken here, along with many other established artists, for our very popular lecture series. We have educational arrangements with The Warner Theatre and The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory where students come in once a month and our interns teach them about art. Having kids talk to kids about art is so unique and we want to do more of that.

Since we’ve opened, Downtown Torrington has seen many changes. The empty storefronts aren’t so common anymore. A new restaurant is opening, a bakery is expanding, and we have a health food and convenience store. Torrington is right on the cusp and I’m so happy to be a part of that.