The Whitemarsh Community Art Center came into existence in 1964. The drive behind its inception was that township programs were centered on boys’ athletics. This left a number of young residents without formal afterschool programs. A proposal was made by a group of residents and accepted by the Director of Parks and Recreation for Whitemarsh Township. In the fall of 1964 one hundred children enrolled in Saturday classes that encompassed both the arts and dance. The operating budget was three thousand dollars and the cost of most classes was twenty dollars for fifteen weeks.
The purpose of the Whitemarsh Township Art Center, as it was referred to, in the very beginning, expressed by Ruth Lehrer was “to expose children to the varied experiences and wonderful excitement of the world of art. The Center’s intention is to provide an atmosphere of learning, a climate of creativity, and, above all, a stimulus for individual growth and development for each child.”
In March of 1965 a public meeting was held in the Township Building and the election of the first board of directors took place. It was at this time that the formal name Whitemarsh Community Art Center was adopted. The next year, with the help of a local attorney, the Art Center wrote its by-laws, applied for and was approved as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
Several strong and consistent factors are evident in reviewing the history of the Art Center. The first is the long standing support given by the Whitemarsh Township. Township support was present from the very beginning. Starting in 1964, the Art Center was allowed to use various township buildings to hold classes and conduct meetings. In the early years this support included janitorial and secretarial support. The use of multiple township buildings, including both upper and lower schools, continued until 1970 when classes were relocated to the farmhouse in Cedar Grove Park. As the Art Center grew, the township allowed it to utilize the adjoining barn. This helped the Art Center run additional classes that could not be held at the farmhouse for lack of space.
Once situated in Cedar Grove Park, the Art Center set its sights on expansion. The Art Center designed and paid for the clay studio addition so it could increase the number of ceramics classes offered. The Quaker Chemical Foundation donated funds to buy a kiln.
The second is the Art Center’s ability to offer relevant classes for the times they were in. This is clearly evidenced in the recorded data from 1965 to the 2000s. As an illustration, in the early years both modern dance and ballet were popular classes. The class schedule was for a 15 week period. Times have dictated shorter commitment to weeks of classes and dance is no longer a part of the curriculum due to the many area dance studios and opportunities that have cropped up over the ensuing years. Another interesting, historical note is that the Art Center offered yoga classes and even provided demonstrations of various techniques before one of its Annual Meetings. Times have changed but the effort is still a driving factor in planning today’s curriculum. Careful thought is given to the nuances of the resident’s time commitments and interests.
The last factor that was gleaned from the historical data is the Art Center’s long standing commitment to outreach programs and an ever vigil eye on keeping the arts within reach of the community it serves. Dena Sher wrote in the 12th year of operation, “The Art Center has become even more aware of its commitment to serve the community. Several residents of a home for the mildly retarded adults are enrolled in classes, and the Board is making plans to send teachers into the community to instruct classes of the elderly or handicapped persons who may not have the means or capacity to travel to the Art Center in Cedar Grove Park.”
In summary, to paraphrase, a statement made during a recent conversation with Julia Cottrell is appropriate: “It was the meaningful conversations with teachers and others and the sharing of ideas that often lead to unexpected and more meaningful results. The Art Center has a rich and varied history that shows a continued commitment to provide art classes and experiences to the surrounding communities.” Full details and historical narratives from Dena Sher, one of the original founders and Julia Cottrell can also be obtained at the Art Center upon request.