Mill Street arts school in need of new home

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Studio School must soon end what has been a 40-year relationship with the Frog Hollow area, and leaders of the local arts education organization are appealing to area property owners who might have space into which the group could relocate its headquarters.
“We would like to remain as close to the downtown as possible,” said Barbara Nelson, executive director of the studio school.
The school germinated around five years ago from the Vermont State Craft Center (VSCC), which during the 1970s established roots and a variety of arts programs at 1 Mill St., the downstairs of the craft center. But the VSCC fell on tough financial times about five years ago, and was forced to liquidate its Middlebury assets, including the building at 1 Mill St.
Cornwall resident and businessman George Dorsey purchased the property, now home to the Edgewater Gallery. But Dorsey allowed the studio school — which no longer has ties to the VSCC — to rent approximately 1,400 square feet of space in the lower level of 1 Mill St., primarily for the school’s pottery program. That came as a great relief to Nelson and other school officials, who received a reprieve from the daunting task of relocating the pottery operation’s large kiln and other pottery equipment, donated by the VSCC.
“(Dorsey) gave us a very affordable rent,” Nelson said.
The studio school’s run at the Edgewater building must unfortunately come to a close by next March, however, as Dorsey is poised to make some major improvements to the structure.
“The building itself needs some structural reinforcement,” Dorsey explained, noting the work will include taking out a wall and pouring a new foundation. “We can’t achieve (the building upgrades) without getting into the space they’re in.”
Dorsey is working on some new plans for 1 Mill St. that will become clearer by the end of this year.
Nelson and her colleagues want to make sure they meet Dorsey’s deadline and are thus casting about for a new pottery studio/headquarters. Nelson said the organization has rented, and will continue to rent, space in other locations for classes — such as the children’s summer art camps being held this summer at the Patricia Hannaford Career Center. But the studio school also needs a home base for its kiln and pottery programs.
Statistics show the studio school continues to have a good following, with 2,903 total students in 2013. Of those 2,903 students, 1,780 took pottery classes, according to Nelson. Classes are taught by a roster of 21 part-time employees and independent contractors, in such disciplines as photography, painting, sculpture, pottery, collage, birdhouse construction, drawing and cartooning.
Many of the students are local; others travel in from as far away as New York state. Some of them are already quite proficient in their craft; others use the school to light a spark in a deep-seated artistic passion that has lain dormant.
Students range in age from 5 years old to their early 80s, according to Nelson. The Mill Street location has allowed parents to drop off their children for classes while they run errands in Middlebury.
“It would be a shame for a whole lot of people if (this school) didn’t exist,” said Nelson. “It is a draw for the community.”
Studio school officials are crossing their fingers that they will receive offers for a barn or warehouse rental space of around 1,400 square feet near Middlebury’s downtown. Nelson stressed the space must be in a local zoning district that could allow for school functions. Anyone with a spot to offer should call her at 247-3702.
She hopes the phone starts ringing, as the school’s offerings have become important to many people.
 “It is good for everyone’s soul to be creative,” Nelson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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