Five Points Arts celebrates 10 years of continuous growth and improvement in Torrington

TORRINGTON — A decade ago, the Five Points Gallery opened on Main and Water streets, welcoming local artists and guests to show their work.

Judy McElhone led a team of volunteers and investors, including the Torrington Downtown Partners, to create the space, which now hosts monthly shows, special exhibitions and artist talks for the community. Later, the Five Points group opened a second gallery, the Annexe. Next is the Launchpad, where art school graduates can pursue their budding careers in a supportive environment.

And last year, the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts opened on the old UConn Torrington campus, celebrated with a gala opening night and throngs of supporters.

McElhone, working from her desk at the arts center, said she was amazed that 10 years had passed since the gallery opened downtown. Since then, several other galleries have lined up on Water Street, joining a recording studio, retail stores, restaurants and new businesses.

“When I retired from teaching and joined the gallery, I thought, ‘I’m going to do this for a year,'” McElhone said. “Then I said, ‘I’m going to do this for five years.’ Here we are, 10 years later, it still works, and it works so well.

Her greatest pleasures at work, she says, are meeting new people and learning new skills. She also learned that there are many generous people in the community and around her who jumped at the chance to get involved in the development of Five Points.

“I learned so many things; the process of creating an arts center from this old campus, learning state protocols and procedures; expand ideas; all of those things have been so educational to me,” McElhone said. “I also discovered the talents and kindness of so many generous people who made it all possible.

The idea for Five Points Gallery was born when a small group attended Main Street Marketplace, a popular street fair that drew hundreds of people to town on Thursday nights for food, entertainment and shopping.

“I met (former executive director) Lynn Gelormino of Warner and Gail Kruppa of the historical society, and worked together for the market,” McElhone recalls. “Then we decided to create a non-profit association and started planning the gallery. Ten years later the changes in Torrington are so amazing and the town has achieved so much.

The pandemic has changed the way businesses operate, from restaurants to retail, and Five Points has faced its own challenges, McElhone said. The gallery’s exhibition openings on Water Street are back in person, but discussions with artists are well-attended on Zoom, she said.

“We stayed alive, like downtown business owners,” she said. “We hope to become a cultural district of the state, which will really make a difference.

She remembers the opening of the gallery in the city center and the calm that reigns.

“Look at it now,” she said. “Even with the restrictions, there are people in the city center. It’s just a different feeling… And I think Water Street (the spaces) are filled. There is a strong community there.

This week, Five Points Gallery Director Karl Goulet sent out announcements about the gallery’s upcoming exhibitions, “Real & Imagined”, featuring works by Joan Wheeler, Lisa Warren, Nancy Hayes, Susan Sharp, Tamara Dmitri; and Mark Rich: Recent work from April 2021 to January 2022. Shows open February 18.

McElhone, born and raised in Torrington, welcomed the chance to help develop the town’s cultural hub.

“For me to see my hometown come back is just wonderful,” she said. “When I was growing up, the city center was such a hub – when the factory workers came out they had to have extra police to direct traffic, it was so busy. On Thursday nights, people would come to dinner downtown, and it was so busy, so crowded. It improves everyone’s mood to see this.

At the arts center on University Drive, a full program of workshops for artists of all levels and skills is taught by fellow artists, each with a particular expertise. The paint room, filled with easels, a digital photography classroom, a photography studio for live photo shoots and the popular print studio are all equipped with donated equipment, thanks to the generosity of artists , local donors and financial supporters like Thomaston Savings Bank and Torrington Savings Bank.

The programs in the state-of-the-art painting, drawing, engraving and photo laboratories (darkroom, alternative and digital photo processing) are designed for beginners and experienced professionals alike. The possibility of renting laboratories allows qualified people to access the centre’s specialized equipment.

“Artists can rent time in the labs to do their own work or attend a workshop,” McElhone said. “The workshops can be followed by an expert, or the least experienced person. We are planning to have walk-in character drawing sessions, and I am planning review parties. I miss teaching, so it’s a chance to connect with people and their work.

In the Thomaston Savings Bank lounge, a grant from the bank will soon provide a flat-screen TV displaying an innovative exhibit – measuring wind activity in trees and broadcasting the data in an artistic form, McElhone said. “I can’t wait to see this,” she said.

The center is also organizing a mini-residency in June and will welcome four artists from Quebec, Michigan, Maine and West Hartford. The group will be staying at the Inn at Mount Pleasant, just down the road from campus, “so we’re also supporting local businesses,” McElhone said.

The large courtyard in the center of the building is also transformed this year, with a sensory garden, space for poetry readings and live performances, and spaces for exhibitions.

“There are all kinds of things we can do with this space,” she said. “Bringing people outside will be wonderful.”

Looking ahead, McElhone knows there are still restrictions to consider.

“We can’t go as fast as the pandemic allows,” she said. “So we are preparing for warmer weather and all the opportunities that will bring.”

For more information about Five Points Gallery, Annex, Launchpad and the Arts Center, visit fivepointsarts.org or call 860-618-7222.

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