TORRINGTON — The old UConn Torrington building on University Drive slowly is transforming into a multi-discipline arts center, thanks to the efforts of a crew of volunteers, board members and staff members from Five Points Center for the Visual Arts.
The center is a product of the Five Points Gallery and Five Points Annex in downtown Torrington, which also provides space for working artists in its Launchpad studios above the galleries.
Since purchasing the University of Connecticut’s 90-acre property in July, Five PointsExecutive Director Judy McElhone has worked alongside gallery curator Karl Goulet and board members Marcia Furman, Bill Haygood, who is serving as facilities manager, project manager Pam MCann, center administrator Noel Croce and her husband, IT director Marc Croce, and librarian and City Council member Sharon Waagner.
“What you’re seeing now is a quart jar with an ounce-and-a-half in it,” McElhone said, gesturing to an empty hallway, as she led a tour of the building. “There’s so much that’s going to happen.
“We see this as a place for artists to come and work, for people to come and learn,” she said. “The goal is to have all kinds of interdisciplinary programs with art, for students and anyone in the community.”
The philosophy behind the center, McElhone said, is to help artists continue to create after finishing their degree. “What happens when artists graduate?” she asked. “Where do they go — maybe they go home, or they move into their own place. But what happens to all their work, and do they continue, if they have no access to space or equipment? That’s what they can do here.”
The main building is a square of hallways surrounding a courtyard, and every space in the square is designated for the center’s art classes, including a print shop, ceramics studio, photography processing lab, woodworking area, a children’s art lab, classrooms, an auditorium, painting studios and a full kitchen for a cafe with an outdoor patio, adjacent to a lounge area with a fireplace.
Working artists can use various spaces in the center, and the equipment, much of which has been donated by businesses and supporters, will be available for free. Fees will apply to all classes, but students also can rent space for longer use. Memberships will be available.
“It’s a major project, but it’s definitely needed,” McElhone said. “You can take one class, rent a space and share it with other artists for a session, or a whole day. The campus grounds have all sorts of opportunities.”
“For our high school kids, our seniors, our veterans, there will be scholarships, if they can’t afford to come, but want to come here,” she said.
Art schools such as Parsons School of Design and the Hartford Art School are inquiring about what the center can do, to show students “there’s life after art school,” McElhone said. “Someone wants to do landscape design with high school students. There are lots of ideas out there.”
The building’s former library, which has a mezzanine and high ceilings, will become the Robert Dente Artist Printmaking Studio, in memory of artist Robert Dente, a painter, sculptor and graphic artist who died in 2017 at his home in West Hartford, and left his entire print shop to the arts center..
“The Bob Dente print shop will be well-used,” McElhone said, adding that the shop will bring in revenue. “People travel all across the state to find a good print studio, and for darkrooms, to produce their work. That’s a huge asset to the center.”
Classrooms range from lecture-hall-style to a former chemistry lab, which is being converted into a photo lab. For younger visitors, the children’s art lab already is taking shape, with colored shelves, children’s paintings to display, and surfaces for painting and drawing. Children’s art classes and activities will be offered.
Renovations under way include painting each room as well as the hallways, which are all plain white. Floors are being stripped and refinished and repairs are being made. “We are using almost all local vendors for the work we have to do,” McElhone said. “It’s about supporting the whole community.”
Near the main entrance of the 30,000-square-foot building, a reception desk stands in front of administrative offices for the Croces, Haygood and Furman, with an open area and table for meetings. Nearby, a small hallway leads to more offices for restrooms and a meditation room, set up by an artist. “This is one of my favorites,” said Waagner. Some of the offices are being rented to mental health providers.
The office area also is home to the library, being curated by Waagner. She has catalogued and separated more than 1,000 books so far with books on many aspects of art — history, photography, painting, to name just a few. “This is Sharon’s baby,” McElhone said.
“It’s exciting to know that students can come in here and do research, or be inspired,” Waagner said. “I’ve been getting a lot done in here. The books are just wonderful.”
The courtyard will be a sensory garden, McElhone said, with interactive exhibits, flowering plants and trees, seating areas and a space for events. A small, attached greenhouse can be used for activities.
Outside, the Five Points members envision plein air painting, sculpture and other types of art sessions. “There’s so much space,” Waagner said. The 90-acre property is flat and surrounded by fencing and old, stone walls.
“I agree with Judy about helping students when they come out of art school,” Waagner said. “You have artists who need a place to go, to paint, to create. This is what they can do here. People who come here are making history with their work, because this is so unique.”
McElhone was more philosophic. “Art always mirrors the world it was made in,” she said. “You need a fertile environment to make that happen. ... I think that can happen here.”
Her vision for the center is to bring artists into the 22nd century, she said. “We don’t even know what that is, what it will be,” she said. “That’s what I want. ... I want it done right.”
To learn more about Five Points Center for Visual Arts, visit fivepointsgallery.org.