After 10 years, Arts Center of Yates County to celebrate its move to Main Street

Arts Center of Yates County

It’s amazing how quickly 10 years can fly by.

Though it sometimes seems like yesterday — and sometimes seems as though it’s been there forever — June 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the Arts Center of Yates County’s presence on Penn Yan's Main Street.

The organization purchased the vacant Maxwell Building in 2010 and, after extensive renovations, opened the doors of the Flick Gallery and began offering classes in the Rosenfeld Studio in June 2012.

“One of the most interesting things about opening on Main Street,” says Arts Center Executive Director Kris Pearson, “is how many people came in and said, ‘It’s about time we had an Arts Center in Penn Yan.’ That was more than a little discouraging to all the volunteers who had been building the Arts Center at its East Elm Street location for the previous 20 years.”

Arts Center of Yates County

The Arts Center organization is actually 46 years old this year.

Originally named the Yates County Arts Council, the Center was established in 1976 and incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in 1984. Its purpose was (and is) to enrich the lives of Yates County residents and visitors by providing opportunities for active participation in the arts.

Before the Main Street move, the organization rented space throughout the county, including a brief stay at the Oliver House and a longer one in the Masonic Temple on East Elm Street in Penn Yan, operating under various names, including “The Crooked Lake Gallery” and later simply “The Gallery.” The dream was always to establish a place on Main Street for exhibitions, workshops, activities and outreach, but that was a big dream for a small, rural, volunteer-driven nonprofit arts organization.

The catalyst for the new building came in 2008, when Toronto art history professor Dr. Annie Smith bequeathed her estate, including her Keuka Lake property, Sunny Point, to the Arts Center. Consisting of a cottage, a barn and a boat house she directed her gift be used for “art and healing.” The Arts Center board decided investing in a permanent home base for the organization was a critical part of the vision and began exploring available buildings on Main Street. 

The building at 127 Main St., known as “The Maxwell Building,” was vacant at the time, having served for more than 100 years as a bank and for several decades as the Village of Penn Yan Traffic Court. 

Board members saw potential in the space – and appreciated the artistry of the round vault door that was installed in 1936. Working with Honeoye architect Rob Wolfe and local contractor Paul Brown, the Arts Center’s volunteers came up with a design that would highlight exhibited work, provide space for programs and staff and act as a visible central location for the organization.

There were a few snags along the way — like when the back wall of the building collapsed after the roof was taken up for replacement — and decisions about colors (based on the palette of buildings along Penn Yan’s historic Main Street), flooring, lighting and exhibit space. Full accessibility with the installation of an elevator to reach the second floor and the basement took another year. Generous donors helped support the process and response to the renovations was gratifying.

Arts Center of Yates County gallery.

“People were so impressed with the professional appearance of the gallery,” says Pearson. “But the space is also welcoming — it’s truly a community arts center. We’ve held meetings, wine tastings, openings and other events here. Being this visible has helped the Arts Center become a more integral part of the community.”

More than 70 exhibitions have taken place in the Flick Gallery since it opened, including annual exhibitions highlighting artwork from students of Yates County's schools, the Penn Yan Art Guild and artists competing in a national juried show.

The Grauer elevator was installed in 2014, making classes in the Rosenfeld Studio fully accessible. From somewhat humble offerings of a slate of 12 senior outreach art classes and 25 adult art classes in the summer of 2001 (and developing a year around schedule in 2006) the Arts Center has offered more than 1,000 workshops in a wide variety of mediums since it opened its doors on Main Street. The number of visitors each year averages three times more than the best years on East Elm Street and average yearly sales are twice as high.

While the Main Street building is the Arts Center’s permanent “home base,” it serves as the center rather than the circumference for organizational activities. Each summer Sunny Point is an active community facility, welcoming resident artists and housing professional art instructors who travel to the area to teach for the Arts Center. The boathouse is now a public pottery studio and the studio barn has been renovated to enable it to accommodate a variety of workshops and activities, including yoga on the porch and the ever-popular Ice Cream Social. Arts Center programs are also run offsite at Yates County schools, wineries and senior living facilities. 

The current Arts Center Board of Directors thinks 10 years of growth and accomplishment is worth celebrating and they’ve scheduled a celebratory gala event on May 19 from 6-9 p.m. at The Seasons on Keuka at the Hampton Inn. Everyone is welcome — call the Arts Center at 315-536-8226 to reserve your spot.  Tickets are $50 per person. 

Sunny Point is opening for the season on June 5 with a pig roast, wine and beer tastings, live music and facility tours. Everyone is invited to enjoy this unique property as well and can buy tickets at the Arts Center.

The Arts Center has come a long way since its beginning in 1976 and it's looking forward to a bright future. That's definitely something to celebrate.