Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts has evolved since its founding in 1970.
Gallery 770, the organization’s headquarters at 770 Cumberland St. in Lebanon, houses gallery and event space. According to the organization’s mission statement, its role is to promote all disciplines of the arts and encourage greater appreciation of the arts and enhance the quality of life in the region.
“We serve the whole county, and we’re open to collaborating with other groups,” said Sharon Zook, LVCA president.
“Art is an expression of oneself. To be able to share that art is a gift to society,” said Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz. “Through the Arts Council, artists are recognized for their work and worth to the community as a whole. We all benefit from and are grateful for the talent and God-given gifts of our fellow citizens.”
LVCA received news mid-July that it will now receive program funding from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Zook explained that previously, LVCA had relied on grant funding for its projects.
“We had to apply for a grant for each individual project. If we received a grant, we had to fund the project and provide documentation to close out the grant,” she said, “As an organization, we successfully completed a number of projects over several years. We could then apply for funding for our program as a whole.”
Unlike restrictive grants, program funding allows organizations some discretion in choosing what they fund. An organization like LVCA can use program funding toward new projects, existing projects, or capital expenses like building and operations.
Zook became involved with LVCA in 2013. At the time, the board had been reassessing the organization’s programs.
“We looked at the programs that were being offered at that time and what worked and what didn’t. What’s popular changes over time. For example, ceramics was very popular in the 80s,” she explained, “We decided to focus more on arts and crafts. We do have to look at what’s profitable. We are an arts organization, and we envision that art is for everyone, but we have to operate LVCA as a business.”
The current headquarters on Cumberland Street is LVCA’s second home. Zook said the first property the arts council had purchased was a vacant convent on Willow Street that had been sitting empty for years. The building underwent major renovations, including the installation of an elevator to bring the property up to code for a public art center.
That property was sold to Calvary Chapel in November 2016, and the proceeds were used to buy the property that would become LVCA’s Gallery 770 on the corner of 8th and Cumberland Streets the following month.
Gallery 770 is more central to the downtown area, Zook explained, and is suitable for both gathering space in the gallery and open, collaborative studio space on the second floor.
The studio space, she said, can be set up to accommodate independent photographers, watercolor meetups or larger children and youth programs like summer camps.
The third floor of Gallery 770 is used by Annubis Productions, and has a green screen videography studio. LVCA also rents storage space to organizations involved in events and music dowtown.
Usually, LVCA unveils a new exhibit every month focusing on member artists or emerging talent.
“We showcase the talent that’s out in our community,” Zook said. “Over the years, we’ve also featured art from HACC and Lebanon Valley College students as well as that of professional artists. We’ve also collaborated with schools and their art projects.”
LVCA hosts a monthly First Friday Art Walk, art classes and summer camps. Watercolor classes, summer camps and a theater camp were all added in the past few years in response to requests from the community.
“Our summer camps were really popular,” Zook said. “We would hold about six camps over the summer, and they would fill up rather quickly.”
In response to requests for cultural events, LVCA has hosted a spring tea, a Celtic evening featuring Irish music and refreshments such as Irish soup and soda bread, and a Burns Night featuring a mix of songs, stories and poems.
Many events, however, have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want our community to be safe and healthy, so we’ve put some things on hold at this time. However, we’re still hosting some activities, but changing the way we do some things,” Zook said.
The organization also worked with mosaic artist Michaelanne Helms on a public art project at Progressive Playground in late July. Helms collaborated with participants in a two-week summer camp hosted by the council on the arts. During the first week, the teens in the summer camp learned the fundamentals of mosaics, and during the second week, they worked with Helms and community volunteers to install the mosaic mural, which is entitled “We Are All in This Together.”
The mural uses the concepts and messages of positivity and hope complied from surveys from the neighborhood and class.
“I love the tile murals being put up each summer. To see that children are heard and included in their creation is a blessing. The sayings in the murals are child-inspired,” Litz said. “In years to come, I envision these youth bringing their children back to the place where they helped to create a mural. They will tell their stories of placing certain pieces, breaking the tile.”
The First Friday Art Walk, a monthly series that showcases artists and promotes public engagement downtown, started in 2006-2007.
First Friday events were suspended in the spring during Gov. Wolf’s “stay-at-home” order, but resumed in July with an outdoor exhibit along Hazel Dike entitled “Fish Out of Water.”
“What a creative way to share the Swatara Watershed story, and the Swatara Water Trail. I was inspired to volunteer to purchase and paint a fish,” Litz said, “In short, these types of projects [Fish Out of Water and the mosaic murals] take art out into the community to the people. So, in addition to a traditional hub at 8th and Cumberland Streets, the Arts Council has evolved their presence in the community.”
During the August First Friday, LVCA’s Gallery 770 re-opened with an exhibit of new artwork produced by area artists during the pandemic.
The exhibit entitled, “Art During Lockdown,” will continue through September, along with the Fish Out of Water Exhibit along the Hazel Dike.
Zook said First Friday activities will continue as long as the county’s COVID-19 numbers remain low.
Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello emphasized her administration’s support for LVCA. The city has provided a number of grants for IT, building and handicap accessibility improvements, promoted First Friday Art Walk, and partnered with the organization on “several grant applications” for public art.
Capello addd that the city recognizes the value of public art to citizens and visitors as an essential building block for community engagement. Celebrating unique local stories, she said, allows us to look at the world with a better understanding of other cultures, races, and our own unique history — while simultaneously encouraging economic development within the city.
“Although temporary in nature, the Fish Out of Water exhibit is a fantastic start to creating a vibrant arts community and increasing foot traffic in our downtown,” Capello said. “The City looks forward to additional exhibits on our walkway along the creek and in other public venues.”
While many of LVCA’s classes have been placed on hold this year, the board has been hard at work.
“The pause in daily — even seasonal — routines has given time to talk to other organizations, people in the community and instructors,” Zook said. “These connections will be useful for planning next year’s programs and events.”
In other words: be on the lookout for more great programs in 2021.
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