Back to School at GAC

Guilford Art Center (GAC) Executive Director Maureen Belden stops by the GAC logo sculpture near the school/studio building, which awaits the arrival of students of all ages for the fall semester. Non-profit GAC offers fall courses in everything from blacksmithing to pottery, painting to sculpting  and more.
Guilford Art Center (GAC) Executive Director Maureen Belden stops by the GAC logo sculpture near the school/studio building, which awaits the arrival of students of all ages for the fall semester. Non-profit GAC offers fall courses in everything from blacksmithing to pottery, painting to sculpting and more. Photo by Pam Johnson/ The Courier

From traditional art to creating a mobile à la Calder or forging a sling shot from an old railroad spike, non-profit Guilford Art Center (GAC) presents many unique classes and workshops for all ages.

GAC Executive Director Maureen Belden is working to spread the news about what GAC has to offer for the fall semester.

"We do classes in all kinds of media-painting, sculpting, drawing, ceramics, glass, weaving, and more?and some that are harder to find elsewhere, like stone carving and blacksmithing. Our education coordinator is great, every semester, at putting together this huge puzzle of so many offerings," says Maureen.

GAC is also offering fall classes in quilting, fiber, metals, jewelry, photography, papier-máché, and mixed media. There are fun and innovative programs for kids and fascinating twists on creativity in classes for adults and teens of all levels of ability.

"We have great really facility and we have a fantastic faculty in every field that we teach, so it is a great place to come to either to discover what you want to do creatively or to continue to work in a medium that you enjoy," says Maureen.

Maureen's affiliation with GAC began when she joined the staff as program administrator in 2005. Needless to say, she is proud to work for GAC.

"We've been around for more than 50 years on the shoreline. Our faculty comes from all over the state, we have visiting artists coming in and teaching, and Expo and our shop and gallery draw nationally known artists. We're glad to be known as a real cultural resource on the shoreline."

GAC's Church Street campus has been operating since 1967 with a main school/studio building and neighboring office/shop/gallery building. However, GAC has been valued as a cultural resource since 1957, when the center's founders held the very first Crafts Expo on the Guilford green. Today's Expo draws American artists from across the nation and runs with the help of more than 125 volunteers. Another expansion at GAC that has taken root is its gift shop and gallery featuring unique handcrafted American art.

Beginning on Nov. 1 and running through Jan. 5, 2014, the shop and gallery will be transformed into GAC's annual holiday sale Artistry featuring American crafts.

"Effectively, we open a huge store-we have inventory that's coming in from 300 artists," says Maureen. "We have an administrator who does a fantastic job getting works for all price ranges and all tastes and many volunteers who help out. People love to shop here because they know they're getting something unique, special, and beautiful. We're also finding we're drawing those who are interested in supporting American artists, which is an important part of what we do."

Non-profit GAC enjoys the direction of a tireless Board of Directors and benefits from the work of GAC's small but devoted staff as well as the support of many volunteers and members.

"GAC is a nonprofit, but I don't think that's always super obvious to the public, because we have tuition fees for classes," says Maureen. "We rely not only on tuition, but on the support of contributions, fundraisers, and our memberships to keep us operating and offering our programs. I'm always trying to create awareness of our programs, the importance of learning about the arts, and the importance of the center as a cultural resource in our region."

While membership isn't required to sign up for GAC classes or workshops, "it's very advantageous to become a member," Maureen points out. "You get 10 percent off any classes you take for a whole year; you always get 10 percent off shop and gallery purchases, invitations to all special events, and free admission for all four days of our Craft Expo. It's a great benefit that's also really important to the center, because memberships help to support the work we do."

Among the membership opportunities are individual annual memberships of $35 or two-year individual memberships of $65; annual family memberships of $50 or two-year family memberships, $90.

For anyone interested in fall semester courses, now is the time to sign up, with many classes and workshops beginning mid-to-late September. Hours for course offerings vary among morning, afternoon (for adults, both early and late afternoons; and for kids, afterschool hours), and evening hours. Weekend workshops are also available. The catalog can be viewed online at Tuition fees appear with each class and financial aid is available.

"We try to keep our tuition affordable," notes Maureen. "Art classes can be seen as a luxury, but it's also very important to feed the soul. Sometimes adults in particular don't take time to do that. Almost everyone I've spoken to who has decided to plunge in and try something, has really enjoyed it, and maybe taken off in a direction they've always wanted to go in. There are lots and lots of happy stories we hear from people."

Maureen encourages all ages to consider a GAC class or workshop, including teens who may select from specific courses offered for teens or take adult level classes if they are interested.

"We like to say there's a lot of scaffold learning that goes on-students learn from other students. Our classes are small, so often times there will be students of different abilities in all classes. It helps more seasoned students to become mentors to less advanced students; it helps beginning students to see what possible. It's a really good model for learning."

For more information, visit, pick up a catalogue at the GAC office, 411 Church Street, or call 203-453-5947. Financial aid is available for adults and children based on needs and interest (forms, available at the GAC office, need to be returned by Friday, Sept. 6 for the fall semester). Timely class registration is encouraged to ensure classes meet minimum enrollment.

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