As the business climate has changed over the past decades, making retail business in city centers ever more challenging, Torrington has hitched its star to the arts. Organizations such as the Warner Theater, the Nutmeg Conservatory, the Connecticut Academy for the Arts and, increasingly, Five Points Center for the Visual Arts, has made the town a Mecca for the arts.
This June, Five Points purchased a shuttered 30,000-square-foot building and 90 acres on the former Torrington Campus of the University of Connecticut to create a sustainable multi-level visual arts center and adjacent art park. It is anticipated that the transformation of the property will significantly strengthen the social fabric and economic growth of the region. At capacity, the center is expected to generate 20 full-time positions and 15 part-time teaching and staff positions.
“With the purchase of the campus facility, we will intensify our efforts to encourage exploration among cutting-edge artists while opening new avenues of community interaction”, said Judith McElhone, founder and executive director.
“In response to the impact of COVID-19, the immediate goal is to create a safe welcoming outdoor spaces—and indoor areas with proper social distancing—for our community of artists, friends, neighbors and visitors,” said McElhone. At present outdoor movies are screened and yoga classes are conducted.
She said that in the future it is hoped that plein-air painting, drawing marathons and concerts will take place. “Seldom has the world needed these collaborations more than today,” she said. “Those are the goals but so much depends on COVID-19. We are following every single COVID rule known to us.”
McElhone said the classrooms are being updated in areas such as plumbing and wider doorways to create studios for painting, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, print studio, bio-lab, digital lab, darkroom and courtyard sensory garden. The existing 245-seat auditorium and commercial kitchen will allow large indoor gatherings and the 90-acre art park will showcase sculptures created by regional, national and international artists. She said she is “just humbled” by the progress made since the June 30th acquisition.”
The Center is currently bringing people on campus by appointment for tours. When the studios finally open, there will be membership fees.
One of the most critical aspects of the new center will be the envisioned Lynchpin Program. The innovative program will be designed as a think tank where established and emerging artists will have the opportunity to share ideas, experiment and explore new directions. Think tank artists will be selected for their interest in issues impacting everyday life. A major focus will be planet sustainability and the environment.
The actor and musician, Kevin Bacon, is the honorary chair of the new Arts Center’s fundraising campaign. The monies raised combined with various grants will cover needed renovation, facility and program needs. “We’re in the silent campaign right now,” McElhone said, “and we’re doing quite well. The actual campaign has not been announced yet because of COVID.”
Five Points Gallery, a 3800-square-foot space composed of three adjacent galleries, prominently located in downtown Torrington, found its inception with the Torrington Arts and Culture Commissions 2012 initiative, Art Space Torrington. The Five Points Center for the Visual Arts began as Five Point Gallery, a temporary 840-square-foot summer storefront gallery, at the corner of Main and Water Streets. Its success led to a permanent Five Points Gallery, a dedicated space to exhibit works by prominent regional, national and international contemporary artists.