The Creative Arts Center: Half A Century Of Making Art

By: Tim Wood

CAC students enjoy a recent plein air class at Oyster Pond taught by John Clayton. TIM WOOD PHOTO

Creative Arts Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The unassuming building at 154 Crowell Rd. in Chatham hides what is perhaps the most vibrant, active arts center on the Lower Cape. If it weren't for the brightly colored sign out front—recently given a new, brilliant color scheme—The Creative Arts Center could easily be mistaken for a real estate or doctor's office.

Which, over the past half century, have been located in the building. Gradually, the CAC took over the space, expanding its galleries, classrooms and studios to accommodate its hundreds of members and dozens of classes and workshops. Its low profile belies the scale of activity that takes place there.

“It is sort of a well kept secret,” said artist Julie Dykens, who also serves on the board of directors.

“People are always amazed when they come in here,” added Executive Director Angela Zoni Mault. “They think it's just the one floor, but when they go downstairs and see the jewelry and pottery studios, they're amazed.”

This summer the CAC celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding with a Summer Gala on Wednesday, June 19 at Chatham Bars Inn as well as the 48th Festival of the Arts, its signature event, with 120 juried artists and crafters displaying a wide variety of works in Chase Park over the Aug. 16 to 18 weekend.

The festival is the non-profit center's largest annual fundraiser, contributing to its annual budget of about $400,000, which supports an administrative staff of four, a faculty of about a dozen artists, and nearly as many visiting instructors from across the country who host workshops in a variety of media. Well over 1,000 students attend sessions at the center, said Mault, some going to weekly classes and others signing up for one-time workshops. Most of the approximately 750 members are quite active; a recent members' show attracted 186 submissions.

The amateur and professional artists who formed the core of the Creative Arts Center first gathered together in 1969 at the McElwain-Falconer Gallery on Main Street. They were looking for ways to share both techniques and work, and met where they could—at the gallery, in churches, the fire station, their homes. The initial group of founders—including Jan Matsik, Marguerite Falconer, Marie Griffin, Harry Hall, Edith Hardy, Nancy Hardy, Roger Harvey, June Hereford, Joseph Leahy, Arthur Romera and Ursula Romera—quickly grew.

“People hopped on the bandwagon,” Falconer told The Chronicle in a 1999 story about the CAC's 30th anniversary.

In 1971, the organization held the first Festival of the Arts in Chase Park. Two years later it was incorporated as a non-profit organization, and in 1976 it moved into its first permanent home behind Pate's Restaurant. That permanent home came in 1982, when the CAC purchased one of the condominium units in the Crowell Road building. Thanks to fundraising and donations, the space expanded over the years into the front and rear sections of the building, which now houses two galleries, painting studios, classroom and workshop space, and a jewelry studio and kilns and a pottery studio in the basement.

Sally Lamson became CAC director in 1986. “I was everything,” she said. “There was no staff, no anything,” except a used typewriter. She instituted fundraisers—including an annual show named for Leo Diehl, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill's chief of staff, held at the prestigious Eastward Ho! Country Club—exhibits and brought in artists to hold workshops.

“She helped to make the center what it is today,” said Nancy Whalen Rude, who began taking classes at the CAC in 1982 and was president from 1988 to 1992.

Artist Marilyn Schofield was one of just a few instructors. “She taught so many people,” Lamson said. “She was a real star here.” Charles Slovak was one of the first artists to give a workshop. For his first workshop in 1987, the center had no money to put him up, so he stayed at Lamson's house. “I cooked for him every night,” she said.

Today there are “soup to nuts” classes held nearly every day at the center, said Mault. Students range in age from children to seniors. Many students have never painted (or created crafts) before, or put down their brushes or pencils to pursue careers. Now, in retirement, they return to hone their skills. Through the center, students can learn new techniques, create art, frame it and display it in the gallery.

“And it's not just the art,” said Dykens. “There's so much joy from people who might otherwise be lonely. We have a lot of fun in our classes.”

The CAC offers an annual scholarship, which has made a big difference in the lives of many young people, Mault said, including her son, who received the very first award a decade ago.

Along with the 24th annual All Cape Cod Art Show, which is going on now through July 1, the CAC has a number of other events planned to mark the anniversary. On July 4 the popular annual sacrifice art sale will be held, a major revenue generator for the organization; on July 14 a show called “All Work Square” opens, and just as the title says, all work displayed, in whatever medium, will be square. Noted local artist Paul Schulenburg will jury and select the awards for the show.

On Sunday, Sept. 22, the CAC will show its appreciation to its members with a special anniversary event. And on Saturday, Oct. 12, CAC members and instructors will be painting on location around town, showing the work they create at “Chatham Sparkles,” a reception that evening from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

For more information and updates on the 50th anniversary events, visit www.capecodcreativearts.org.

DETAILS:

“Celebrate the Arts”

Creative Arts Center 50th Anniversary Gala

Wednesday, June 19, 6-8 p.m.

Chatham Bars Inn

$125 per person

508-945-3583, info@capecodcreativearts.org