Organization in South Yarmouth offers art classes, exhibits, studio space and more!
With its many classes and programs, and artists of all ages and skill sets coming and going, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth could be compared to a bank, trading in diverse currencies for the benefit of those who participate. In fact, since it opened in 2007, the center has been operating out of the former Bass River Savings Bank at 307 Old Main Street.
In 2017, the large community of artists, teachers, students, staff, volunteers and others who have invested time, energy and funds in the center are celebrating its 10th anniversary. To mark the milestone, several members of the community shared their thoughts on what makes the place so special and how the center fulfills its motto, “All the arts for all of us.”
Betsy Payne Cook of Mashpee, who teaches at the center, commented on the wide variety of classes available in traditional art media as well as cooking and dance. “There’s something for everyone,” she says. “It lives up to its name as a cultural center. Even the newsletter is impressive.”
“I love being here,” adds Nicki Palmer. “There’s something about this place that’s magical.” A resident of Harwich, Palmer says she has come to know many great people at the center, and a welcoming attitude runs throughout. “When you come in, there’s no place you’re not allowed to go,” she says. “The center is so many things.”
What things? To begin, the center displays the work of local artists, both established and emerging. “We really encourage artists to get their work up on the walls,” says Robert Nash, the center’s executive director. The center also hosts several large exhibits each year, including the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod’s National Juried Show every summer. For online competitions, the center’s reach is even greater. “We get entries from all over the world,” says Amy Neill, the center’s education director. In April, the Great Hall—the center’s largest exhibit space—displayed black-and-white photos on every wall, while in the Blue Room, once a loan officer’s work space, the oil paintings of Yarmouth’s Lucille Noble were on exhibit.
The Artisans Gallery is a gift shop stocked with handmade creations, all made on the Cape by Cape artisans. Offerings include jewelry, textiles, notecards and other items.
The center’s current course lineup—some 80 classes—includes painting, pottery, cooking and Italian, the last of which is taught with aplomb by Guido Farina of Yarmouth. Harwich’s Odin Smith leads Paint Night classes, guiding students step by step through the painting process.
A pastels teacher, Payne Cook says she has enjoyed many positive experiences at the head of the class. She’s had students at the beginning of a course confess fears that they can’t do it, only to learn, with a little sweat equity, that they can. She says she often sees a class full of quiet strangers on day one transition into a closely bonded group as the weeks go by. “They seem like longtime friends,” she says.
In 2017, Sawyer Adamaitis, a Dennis-Yarmouth High School student, completed an internship at the center, just as his sister, Olivia, had done before him. He spent a lot of time in the brand new recording studio, and he says the center has much to offer both young and old. “It’s so diverse,” Adamaitis says, “with every single art form.”
Throughout the year, the center hosts many events that are open to the public, from film screenings and jazz concerts to story-slam sessions and trivia nights. In January, the center began hosting monthly “Sober Socials,” which Neill says have been very successful. The events are simply social gatherings with different themes—and no alcohol is served. The center can also be rented for private events, and many nonprofit social service agencies have hosted meetings at the facility. “It’s a welcoming place,” says Steve Abbott, a former president of the center’s board of directors, “and it’s a wonderful gathering place. I look at the 10-year history of the center, and it’s been a tremendous pattern of growth.”
When the Bass River Savings Bank relocated in 1981, the structure on Old Main Street stood empty for nearly two decades. In 2000, a group of locals joined forces with the goal of saving the building to open a cultural center. Maria King Constantinidis, a resident of South Yarmouth, purchased the building and donated it to the group, which then raised $750,000 over six years to pay for renovations—which included polishing up the vault.
Patty Creighton of South Yarmouth has been involved from the beginning, and she coordinated the volunteers for years. “Working with the volunteers has shown me what a family we have here,” Creighton says. “It’s a special place to be.”
George Sowpel, a teacher at Monomoy Regional High School in Harwich, would agree. Sowpel works with at-risk students—those who have anxiety or other issues, and may not be on track to graduate. Twice a month Sowpel brings the students to the center, where they learn about various arts and crafts from local artisans. Sowpel says one session with the Cape Cod Woodturners was an inspiration. The craftsmen showed the students how to make bowls and honey dippers—and the kids loved it. “This has been the most important component of what we do for the at-risk population,” Sowpel says. “We give them the chance to explore.” He adds that the students are always made to feel welcome at the center. “It’s a place where people care about each other,” he says.
In 2016, a $1.5 million expansion was completed, creating the three-level, 9,000-square-foot Education Wing next to the center’s original footprint. The building has a spacious meeting room, a commercial kitchen large enough to host culinary arts classes, a high-tech recording studio and an outdoor patio cafe. On each floor, elevator doors are decorated with artwork. The center held a contest to solicit art for these unique spaces, and received 373 entries from around the world, including a mixed-media piece by Sandwich resident Jackie Reeves—one of the original winners.
Artists rent studio spaces on the second floor, which offer large windows and lots of light; the arrangement requires that they teach at the center. Many local and accomplished artists have studios, including photographer Julia Cumes and a group—Julie Blanchard, Judy Cournoyer, Claire Marcus, Robert Mesrop and Ann O’Connell—collectively known as Fresh Paint Artists. Neill says opening nights are special with music playing and visitors browsing artwork, chatting and getting to know each other. “The vibe is always awesome,” says Neill. “It’s truly one big happy family.”
The Cultural Center of Cape Cod is at 307 Old Main Street, South Yarmouth. For more information, call 508-394-7100, or visit cultural-center.org.