Art in the City
● By Stone Lieberman
Art Partners Studio has been bringing art to Coatesville since its inception in the 1990s as a program of the Chester Springs Studio.
“Art Partners, before it became Art Partners Studio, was the community partnership program of the Chester Springs Studio. We wanted to partner artists with the community and area schools,” said Lindsay Brinton, founding director. “One of our longest partnerships was with young people in Coatesville. We brought them to art camps in the village of Historic Yellow Springs in Chester Springs.
“Until one day, a young artist came up to me and said, ‘This is really nice, I love it over here, but why don’t you come to Coatesville?’ That was the genesis of trying to create more sites in the county where art could take place.”
“At that time, only the Chester County Art Association and Chester Springs Studio were around to encourage the abundance of inspiration and creativity in Chester County,” Brinton said. “The studio’s goal has always been to ensure access to art, whether it’s enjoying art or participating in it or encouraging it.”
Art Partners started working with youth and adults in the city as a result of a request by the Brandywine YMCA to create a mosaic mural at the Ash Park pool. The group then began conducting classes at Oak Street. In 1998, they established a storefront studio, remaining a program of the Chester Springs Studio until 2005. Art Partners Studio became a separate, non-profit organization in 2007.
The new studio’s classes were held at the Coatesville Memorial Community Center and the library until 2009, when they moved into a Victorian house at Fifth Avenue. “That was just wonderful; classes could now be consolidated in one building,” Brinton said. “We started offering free classes and enrollment spiked. There was an obvious interest because there were just few opportunities.”
The idea was to grow an audience and slowly add classes with affordable tuition fees. “They were $35; now they have doubled,” Brinton said.
With a move the former Benner School across East Lincoln Highway in 2015, the studio tripled its space to include a media lab, two studios, offices and a 300-volume art library. The artist faculty includes those who teach for local school districts or area art centers. Many have graduated from some of the better-known regional art colleges and universities, including Moore College of Art & Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Temple University, University of the Arts, and West Chester University.
“From the start, with our first grant from the Stewart Huston Charitable Trust, our idea was to position a permanent art resource in the heart of the city and engage the families that reside in the townships of the Coatesville Area School District,” Brinton said.
The studio’s current focus is the visual arts, and they are committed to making art as accessible as possible for all ages. And, while they offer tuition-based classes in the downtown studio and after-school art clubs for all the elementary schools in the district, they still have many free classes and drop-in art activities at city or school district events. Financial aid for tuition classes is always available. According to Brinton, about 68 percent of the participants enjoy art and art-making at no cost.
“We also continue to work with neighbors in the community that would like to include art in their programs,” she said. The Brandywine YMCA, Coatesville Kids to College, Coatesville Area Senior Center, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and Veterans Administration Medical Center contract the studio for art programs. Many times, through acquired funding, these groups are able to provide art for their audiences, all at no charge to their students. “No one is ever turned away,” Brinton said.
Brinton broke down the art programs the studio has initiated to encourage arts engagement: Art in the City, Art Out Front, Artists 19320! and Art Squad.
Art in the City includes year-round education programs for all ages in the studio and in various locations across greater Coatesville. A recently initiated series of workshops is attracting professional and amateur artists to the Lukens Historic District. In July, 25 artists visited the site to paint and photograph the industrial landscape at the heart of Coatesville.
“The idea behind it is to revisit the history and environs of Lukens Steel – to understand the importance of this site along the Brandywine and the river that fed the American Revolution,” Brinton said. “That’s exciting. We are working to keep that memory alive through the art of contemporary artists.”
Art Out Front! partners artists with neighbors in free art projects that encourage civic engagement. In the fall of 2016, the “I Am Coatesville” exhibition featured the photographs of 30 city residents – from bank presidents and civic leaders to students who sat for their portraits in a pop-up studio on the porch of the Benner School.
Brinton and Darcie Goldberg, the former executive director of the Chester County Art Association, are working on a project “I Am Coatesville Steel.” As the studio’s resident artist for the year-long project, Goldberg will work with local photographers, high school and college students to take portraits of people associated with the extended Lukens Steel family – family, steelworkers, and administrators. A September 2018 exhibition is planned in venues throughout the city, with 250 photographic portraits and the stories behind them.
Artists 19320! offers regional artists the opportunity to exhibit their work at the studio, Coatesville Savings Bank, and the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum. Exhibiting artists are expected to have some connection to Coatesville, whether they live in the community, have been teachers at the studio or have studios of their own in the 19320 Coatesville zip code. Student shows are also held. “We really feel it is important to affirm the students’ work,” Brinton said.
Art Squad is a new venture. “The idea behind this was, 'How do you get anybody aged 13 or older to lean into their creativity with artists?'” Brinton said. This free program is for teens and emerging artists who want to work in a studio setting with artist mentors. Art Squad meets on Thursday evenings and students can explore various art media, from cartooning, jewelry making, photography and post-production imaging, painting, drawing, sculpture, and stop-motion animation. The studio is open to anyone who drops in, and there is free pizza.
“We want to make Art Partners Studio art central and a happening place for the arts,” Brinton said.
Through these four avenues to art, APS involves about 1,500 youth and adults each year-- the majority are youth in school. And it’s through these programs that Art Partners Studio is getting people to see Coatesville differently.
Funds to sustain the studio come primarily from grants and the generous gifts of friends -- only 25 percent of the budget is fulfilled by income from art contracts, art sales, and tuition fees.
“The studio receives grants from foundations that support the arts and recognize the importance of the arts for the citizens of Coatesville,” Brinton said. “The studio is on the upswing. We have a wonderful board now and have begun to create the framework for art to prosper and endure. I am convinced we’re here to stay.”
Art Partners Studio is on the second floor of the former Carl Benner School building, 545 E. Lincoln Highway, Coatesville. For information, call 610-384-3030, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.artpartnersstudio.org or its Facebook page at facebook.com/artpartnersstudio.