PORTSMOUTH — The Portsmouth Arts Guild, which has been offering exhibit space to local artists and public art classes for 10 years, has big plans.
Dreamed up by three local artists in 2002 and then incorporated as a nonprofit in January 2003, the Guild held exhibitions at various Aquidneck Island locations before forming a partnership in 2006 with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which shares space in the parish hall.
The Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Committee asked the Town Council March 11 to designate the former Coggeshall School building as the site of a proposed community arts center that would be managed by the Guild. The council took no action on the matter, saying it wants to hear more from the Aquidneck Island Christian Academy, which is now leasing the building from the town.
We recently caught up with Madeline Ruiz, the Guild’s president, who shared her vision for the group as well as its plans for the future.
Big year — “We’re actually celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, which represents 10 years as a nonprofit organization. But we are a little bit older than that. The original founders go back to 1999, I believe.”
Guild members — “We have about 140 members from all over. We have a lot from Bristol and Warren, Tiverton, obviously Portsmouth, and many from Middletown and Newport as well. Some people have been artists their whole life and are looking for a place to show and sell their work; we function as a gallery in that respect. Others are emerging artists who are interested more in just taking classes who may not necessarily put their work in a show. We reach out to both demographics.”
Targeting more families — “I joined the Guild back in January 2012 and came on as president that June with the specific intention of opening up our demographic and reaching out to families and really trying to incorporate the youth in our community to the arts organization, trying to let them know that this is a resource for the arts in Portsmouth. More and more arts are getting cut out of public school programming and the town certainly devotes a lot of resources to sports and that kind of thing. We’re hoping to kind of balance that out a little bit by offering resources in the arts for families. We have done some things like collaborate with ArtSmart, which is the program run by the library. We’ve had those kids come over here and actually walk through a gallery setting and experience real art. Last summer the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts funded a summer camp program for us. (This year) we didn’t get a grant for it, we’re just going to ask people pay small fees for classes. We’re trying to offer more affordable programs for family, particularly in the summertime when young families have to put their kids in a lot of different things. I have a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old, which is part of my impetus to kind of bring the arts down to that level. ”
Membership fees — “We have family memberships for $60, $45 for individuals and if you’re student, $25. You can do you membership online through Paypal.”
Need for growth — “The original conception for the Portsmouth Arts Guild, as a center for the arts, was to include the performing arts — music, theater and these other facets other than just the visual arts. Because of size limitations we basically have this one room where we do all are programming and exhibitions. We are limited here. We had the youth art classes this summer — visual arts classes for 3- to 5-year-olds — and we had to put them in a tent outside because the exhibition we had in here was heavily sculpture-focused. It’s just no that conducive to what we want to be. Some kind of growth has to happen for us to evolve as an organization.”
Reaction to March 11 Town Council meeting — “It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no. The Portsmouth Arts and Culture Committee, and the Portsmouth Arts Guild, will continue to work with the town and stress the importance of handing over this town owned building to a project that benefits all Portsmouth residents. It is critical that Town Council understands the value of the project and the value of arts programming in the lives of our residents. I certainly think we need to have more communication with the Christian Academy to find out what their plans are. Are they looking for another building, do they have a timeframe of when they want to be out of there? And the Guild has to think about, is this realistic for us?”
Benefits of Coggeshall building — “It was the only building that fits our needs. It has the auditorium and it’s basically in move-in condition because it has the classroom space. So it’s really a wonderful way for us to do what we’re doing here, but on a bigger scale and incorporate those facets of the arts that we were not able to do within this space. We want to maintain what has grown here at the Guild, particularly in the visual arts (but) that building would enable to us incorporate and collaborate with places like Common Fence Music, possibly Portsmouth Community Theater — those kinds of places that are also using space around town, but maybe this could be a central location.”
Background — “I’m kind of new to the area. I grew up in New Hampshire and got my undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College in art history. Then I went to UT Austin and got my master’s in art history, but I actually focused on Latin American art, and I worked for a museum out there for a while. Then I moved to California where I worked in Orange County at the Festival of Arts, which is basically a very large arts organization there. And from there I came here. I’m also a professor; I teach art history at Bridgewater State University.”
Why Portsmouth? “I spent a lot of time here as a child growing up, especially in the summertime. I always knew it was a place that I would want to come back to. Once you start having kids and the whole family thing, it was just too hard out there, not knowing anyone and not having any family.”
Artist yourself? “No — a wanna-be artist. I don’t have the space to do it anyway and with the kids, I’d be halfway through getting the paints ready and I’d hear ‘Mama!’ But when you study arts history you have to take a lot of studio classes, which is great because it helps you understand the process — how all this stuff is done.”
The Guild’s “Town & Country” show runs through April 7. For more information, visit www.portsmoutharts.org.