WMOA to improve facility, enhance children’s programs


After being awarded a $55,245 grant from the Champlin Foundations in November, the Warwick Museum of Art (WMOA) will soon undergo renovations to improve the facility.

While the project is out for bids, a majority of funds will be used to transform the lower level. Plans have been drawn for a new art classroom, kitchen and storage space.

The goal is to enhance educational programs, including the semi-annual Art Adventure Camps for children between the ages of 5 to 12 during February and April vacation, which have been offered for the last seven years.

The February session begins on Feb. 20 and runs through Feb. 24, with morning classes from 9 a.m. to noon. It’s $15 per student, per day, and $75 per student for the week.

“It’s our most successful program,” said Michelle Place-Gleason, the president of the Board of Directors, who has been a member since 2004, president for the last five years and originally proposed the program.

Place-Gleason said she was involved in enriched summer camps as a child. Now, as a parent of four children, she understands the importance of having local and affordable educational camps.

To better suit busy parents, the summer camp includes three classes daily for five days, with two-hour sessions starting at 9 a.m. and running to 4 p.m. at $200 for the week.

“I haven’t raised the prices in seven years,” Place-Gleason said.

Fifteen children are in each class with activities, including painting, sculpting, theatre, jewelry making, book making, illustration and cartooning, among others.

Place-Gleason also said the caliber of instructors is “wonderful,” and that many of them have Master’s degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Fine Arts. A total of 21 certified artists teach the classes.

“There are even a couple with doctorates,” she said.

The renovations will give children and instructors more room to create their art and display it.

“We’re going to have lots of wall space so the children can hang their work and we can have student art shows,” said Deb Mercer, a member of the Board. “It’s really going to change the nature of what we do.”

Updates will allow lower sinks for children and help them clean up after arts and crafts. It will be safer because they won’t stand on stools or chairs to reach the sinks. Board members are also happy that it will be more accessible for children in wheelchairs.

Place-Gleason said they hope eventually to add Adult Art Instruction, as well.

“There are other art studios around and they are really good at getting people into art and unfortunately we haven’t tapped the adult market yet,” she said. “We feel like we should be considered a place for them to go.”

She anticipates the changes will rid the downstairs of mold and mildew and transform a damp basement into a full-purpose kitchen. While it already has a stove and refrigerator, it will soon have new ones, with a dishwasher and more counter space.

Additional appliances will provide caterers with better tools when they rent space for special events and exhibits, improvisational theatre, musical acts, poetry slams, speakers, movies, birthday parties, inauguration celebrations and memorial services.

There are two rental fees, one for non-profits at $35 per hour, and another at $50. Both rates have a four-hour minimum.

The current exhibit, “The Heart of Winter,” began earlier this month and ends on Feb. 29. It features nine local artists and includes paintings and sculptures. Admission is free.

“It’s one of the best shows we’ve ever done,” said Mercer. “The art is fantastic.”

Also, the WMOA received an $87,000 Champlin grant nearly four years ago to modify and improve the gallery portion. The walls were sandblasted, new carpets and windows were installed, a stage, better lighting, a heating system and the historic front doors were also refurbished.

“After we did that, the museum looked fantastic,” Place-Gleason said. “We really stepped up our programming at that point and are able to book our programs months ahead of time so people know what is coming.”

Moreover, she said they cut their heating bill in half by upgrading from oil to gas. In the meantime, the museum was recently named the number one Rhode Island organization for promoting arts, culture and tourism, as well as the “Most Under Appreciated Museum in Rhode Island,” and the “Best Place to Hear a Reading,” by the 2004 Providence Phoenix Reader’s Poll.

The facility, which is owned by the city, was formerly an armory. This year, it celebrates its 100th birthday. The Junior Women’s Club, now the Warwick Women’s Club, founded it as a museum in the early 1970s.

“We’re grateful the city lets us use it for the arts,” said Place-Gleason. “The mayor has been so supportive of everything we do. He comes to our events and just smiles.”

Mayor Scott Avedisian is indeed pleased to see that the WMOA has made a huge turnaround the last four or five years. He said he’s impressed with the Board and is thrilled children and adults enjoy it.

“When I used to leave City Hall years ago, the building was in darkness and on the weekends there were no cars parked there,” he said. “I went back to City Hall for something on [a] Saturday night and the parking lot was filled with cars because there was a performance going on. The enthusiasm and energy of the Board, as well as money from Champlin, allows us to focus on programming for kids.”

Champlin grants allow associations the means to keep the architectural character and value of their buildings, which is important for the WMOA because it is in a historic district.

Treasurer Tom Willis and Board member Pamela Unwin Barkley, who is an architect and teacher at Rhode Island School of Design, planned the layout of the kitchen and classroom. The goal was to connect it to the aesthetics of an older militia-style building, as is used to house artilleries.

“We wanted to make it a whole lot more organized and this gives us the ability to do it in a cohesive way,” Unwin Barkley said. “It will be more user-friendly to children and teachers.”

She said they hope to receive another grant to install an outdoor ramp. Currently, the building has a wheelchair lift, but they don’t like relying on an electrical mechanism that needs “constant” maintenance.

But, they also hope to do one more thing near and dear to their hearts.

“At every event we have, someone comes up to us and says, ‘I’ve lived in Warwick all my life and I’ve never been here,’” said Place-Gleason. “Someday, I’m not going to hear that.”

In addition to the Champlin Foundations, the WMOA is supported in part by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the city of Warwick, the state of Rhode Island and WMOA members and sponsors. For more information and to enroll in the art program, contact the museum at 401-737-0010. The WMOA is located at 3259 Post Road.


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