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History Gets A Facelift: Armory Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Changes
As the Armory Art Center prepares to celebrate its 20th season, the West Palm Beach visual arts education and exhibition campus is marking the milestone with a series of transformations – both internal and external.
“Walk through our new front doors, and you’re going to see our biggest change,” said Therese Shehan, executive director for the Armory. “Thanks to a state grant, our historic facility is getting a facelift. We’re adding a new roof, new AC units and repairing windows. You’ll see a new conference room, new printmaking studio, computer lab and a renovated jewelry studio. All of our studios and classrooms are getting a floor-to-ceiling cleaning. The changes will be dramatic. We can’t wait to welcome students to classes this season.”
Founded in 1986 to fill the gap by the closing of the Norton Gallery's School of Art, the Armory has come a long way since its early days. Twenty years ago, art students, preservation activists, philanthropists, the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association and the Palm Beach County Cultural Council began the process of joining forces to create the Armory Art Center, using the former Palm Beach County National Guard Armory building, which was vacant and slated for demolition.
Designed in the art deco style by William Manley King, the Armory was originally built in 1939 as a WPA project and served as a National Guard Armory from 1939 to 1982.
The building sat vacant until 1987 when the City of West Palm Beach designated it for long-term use as a visual art center for the community. Initial remodeling was completed in September of 1987 and classes began in October. An additional building was opened in 2003 to house youth classrooms and painting and drawing studios. This summer’s renovations celebrate a current makeover of sorts for the nearly 20-year-old art center.
Today the Armory Art Center offers 65 different studio art classes; educates and enriches the lives of more than 3,500 students; hosts 20 curated exhibitions annually; presents more than 20 Master Artists Workshops and 13 lectures each year; provides more than 100 scholarships and fee waivers to children each year; reaches out to more than 60 at-risk youth from eight different urban neighborhoods offering free after-school art classes in partnership with the City of West Palm Beach; and exposes more than 500 children to the joy of creativity at Summer Art Camp.
As of this fall, a new pricing structure is also in place, designed to make classes more affordable and more accessible. According to Shehan, the length of terms at the Armory has been shortened, and consequently, classes are more affordable.
“Art is fun – it’s a stress reliever and should be something you do for yourself,” said Shehan. “We want students to understand that the Armory offers a diverse range of classes and is the perfect place to try all kinds of art – from jewelry making to stone carving, from ceramics to painting, drawing and more. We don’t want students to be intimidated by cost or commitment for an extensive class schedule. We’ve worked hard this summer to make this season at the Armory more accessible to all kinds of students. Beginners, experienced artists, working professionals, retirees, affluent Palm Beachers and families from Boca Raton, Wellington and Stuart will all find fun classes and excellent instructors to suit their schedules at the Armory.”
Attracting students of all ages and abilities, the Armory has always been a gathering place for fans of great art. A diverse exhibition schedule runs throughout the year – showcasing living artists in the campus’ three gallery spaces. Opening night receptions are open to the general public, and often feature an opportunity to meet the artist, or purchase art. Details on exhibitions are available online at the Armory’s website, www.armoryart.org.
The Armory Art Center’s prestigious Master Artists Workshop series begins its 11th season this January. The series is carefully designed to provide artists at every level of skill and experience – from beginner to professional – the opportunity to study with the best of today’s master artists working in the areas of drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, metals, photography, fabric and collage.
“Students fly in from all over the country for our Master Artist Workshops,” said Shehan. “They attend for recreation, or to learn particular techniques or skills from respected artists in a variety of media.”
Enrollment in each workshop is generally limited to 16-20 students on a first-come, first-served basis (lecture and demo enrollments are higher.) Many free lectures and demonstrations coincide with select workshops and are open to the general public. Highlights from the series include workshops with jewelry and metalsmithing artist, James Bove; silverpoint drawing with Carol Prusa; print artist and ceramicist, Eva Kwong; and well-known sculptor and painter Paul Lucchesi.
In addition to workshops, lectures, classes and exhibitions, the Armory’s event schedule offers something for everyone. Highlighted with new events such as the Armory’s Art a la Carte, October 30 – November 1, 2006 and Affaire D’Arte, December 1-3, 2006, there are also the annual events such as Mad Hatter’s Tea Party on March 6, 2007 and Family Fun Day on April 14, 2007. The events raise dollars for special programming, scholarships and community outreach at the Armory.
Since its founding in 1986, the Armory Art Center has offered quality studio art education programs for youth, including sequential studio training in the visual arts; on and off site programs for underserved and at-risk youth populations in Palm Beach County, as well as special workshops and programs for elementary through high school level.
The Artist-in-Residence program is a unique and very vital offering at the Armory. One year of residency is offered to three artists each year. These artists then spend that year teaching Armory students and learning from Armory faculty – all while creating new works of art for their evolving portfolios. According to Shehan, the Armory currently provides this residency status in ceramics, painting, jewelry and sculpture.
“Our Artist-in-Residence program is an incredible way to draw talented artists from all over – to collaborate with other artists right here at the Center,” she said. “We’re delighted the proceeds from events like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party will benefit this important programming.”
The Armory Art Center is a not-for-profit community-based visual arts center providing opportunities for individual growth, self-expression, increased awareness and appreciation of the arts through participation in studio, exhibition, lecture and other educational programs. The Center seeks to educate, enrich and engage a diverse population through the "experience of art," and is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council. For more information on the Armory Art Center and call 561.832.1776 ext. 21 or visit the Armory’s website at www.armoryart.org.