Resilient Community Arts opens art space for social progress in Easthampton

Sept. 7, 2021 | Ryan Feyre

RCA, founded by local artist and teacher Maddie McDougall, aims to provide a community-driven arts space for Pioneer Valley residents in an affordable and accessible manner.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

EASTHAMPTON – Resilient Community Arts (RCA), a nonprofit arts organization in Easthampton, is aiming to provide a community-driven arts space in an affordable and accessible manner for the Pioneer Valley.

The organization, which recently opened their own studio in room #044 in Eastworks, is hoping to use the arts as a vehicle for social progress and equity.

Maddie McDougall, the director of RCA, told Reminder Publishing that she noticed a combination of a need for public art as well as a general interest in the concept while teaching art in Springfield for a while and living in the city for eight years.

“It was exactly what I needed and wanted at the time, and I was able to get so many skills and experiences that redirected me as an artist,” said McDougall, regarding her time as a teacher.

As someone who has been an artist her whole life, McDougall explained that art is essential to cultural power and having people’s voices be heard. The problem, however, is that many museums, galleries, art events and art programs are mostly accessible to privileged people with expendable income. As a result of this, the RCA organization is hoping to make art more accessible for people in the valley.

“I have always wanted to do something that could bring together the role of a community center, but then also provide art access within that,” said McDougall. “If we have a family coming in here for classes, and then they need to find new backpacks for school, then I’m hoping our staff is going to be able to use our connections to meet whatever needs people have.”

McDougall moved to Easthampton to advance her art practice forward, especially after visiting Florence to witness Kim Carlino – a prolific muralist in the valley – create a group of paintings along the city’s bike path. “When I was there, I was just seeing so many things come together that made it clear that I would be able to move my art practice forward if I moved closer to here,” McDougall said.

The organization filed their papers for a studio in Eastworks and secured the space earlier this summer.

Aside from McDougall, RCA also includes a small group of members that assist the organization with specific duties. Grace Vo, a UMass Amherst Studio Arts alumni, serves as the board clerk and studio logistics manager. Alvilda Sophia Anaya-Alegría is the board treasurer and consultant on Community Economic Development. She is also a feminist painter working on mosaic installation at Pynchon Park.

Charlene Elvers, meanwhile, serves as a board member at large, while Diara Vicaedomini volunteers as an outreach and partnership coordinator for the organization.

The organization began doing outreach work in June and conducted their first fundraiser fest at Millside Park on Aug. 21 to raise money for the studio and allow people to sign up for fall classes. With the studio now officially open, the organization is currently gearing up for those classes, which plan to go between Sep. 1 and Nov. 30. A rough draft provided to Reminder Publishing shows that a watercolor class with Anaya-Alegría on Tuesdays from Sept. 7 to Oct. 26, a free Womxn’s weekly support group beginning in November, and a “Printing for Change” thematic class with McDougall beginning on Nov. 11, are among the programs and classes RCA plans to offer. Dates will be subject to change, and people in these classes will be notified. The programs will be divided up seasonally, as well.

The Watercolor class is open to adults, teens and kids. Ages 10 to 13 must be accompanied by someone 18 or older. The class, according to McDougall, was heavily suggested by community members during summer outreach events. “Instead of just doing what we want to do, we want to be open and listen to what others need and are asking for,” said McDougall, regarding how they construct their programs.

Since a lot of McDougall’s individual art focuses on printmaking within a social justice context, the goal of the printing class will be to have people research their own causes that they are interested in, and create their prints based off of those causes. The class is for people ages 15 and up.

The organization is also looking to add public drop-in studio events throughout the fall where anyone can come in and use what they want in the studio to make what they want. According to McDougall, this is where the shared space mentality will come into play. She hopes to make it a weekly event once the organization begins to settle in the location. They conducted their first on Sept. 2.

The prices for the classes and drop-in studio events vary based on cost of materials and length a family or individual may want to go for. “Folks are going to be able to look at that, discuss with their family, and pay what they can,” McDougall said. The organization is also currently sorting out funding for scholarships that will tie into their after-school program, which will most likely launch in December and continue after the holidays.

“We want to make a place where anyone of any income level, of any socioeconomic background feel comfortable in,” said McDougall. “This building is massive and has so many assets for our community, and the whole community should be benefitting from that.”

RCA will continue to preach accessibility in art and provide outreach events for those who may not know about them yet. People can visit their new website listed here: A grand opening event for the RCA studio will officially occur on Nov. 6 and 7.

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