WILLIAMSTOWN -- Winter landscapes and Ayrshire cows in the snow. Calligraphy. Characters living on the page. A baby quilt in bright and delicate flannel.
When IS183 Art School of the Berkshires begins its first class on Monday at its new satellite location at the historic Little Red Schoolhouse in Williamstown, it will fill a niche in the northern Berkshires that has sat empty for the past few years.
In 2009, Northern Berkshire Creative Arts, a nonprofit arts education center in North Adams, closed, leaving North County residents without easy access to community arts education programs. Inkberry, a North Adams-based nonprofit that offered workshops for local writers and also brought reading programs to schools in North County, closed in the same year.
To help fill this void, local artist Cecilia Hirsch decided to find a way to bring arts education back to North County. Hirsch has a background in teaching fine art photography and has lived in the Berkshires for the past 15 years, and she said it was important to the greater Berkshire County community as a whole to have a gathering place where people can make and explore.
Knowing that starting her own arts nonprofit from scratch would be a costly and potentially risky endeavor, Hirsch needed to find a partner to shoulder the load of starting a community arts center in the area.
She turned out to be at the right place at the right time. Local artist Nova Rockwell, who had been on the board for NBCA, heard from Hope Sullivan, IS183's executive director, that her school was looking to expand its programming to North County.
IS183 in Stockbridge has offered art classes since 1991 and is the largest single employer of artists in the county, but for many in the north Berkshires it would make a long commute.
Rockwell suggested that Hirsch reach out to IS183, and in another moment of serendipitous timing, an ideal new place became available.
The Little Red Schoolhouse, which is run by the South Williamstown Community Association, served as a public school from the 19th century through the 1960s, and it is most familiar to people in Williamstown as a preschool. Due to low enrollment, the school closed in August, before it was selected by IS183 as its new year-round satellite building.
"I don't know how to describe it, but I feel this great sense that this was meant to happen at the right time," Hirsch said. "In IS183, we found an already well-oiled machine of an art school that could provide this service to the community. It already had its own built-in support."
Hirsch reached out to local artists she knew had taught in the past, and then she developed a course list with Sullivan. There are 12 courses scheduled at the Little Red Schoolhouse in a wide range of disciplines -- from fiber arts to painting and drawing and writing. A few are children's courses, but the classes are geared mainly to adults and are open to area students who are at least 15 years old.
For Sullivan, this new program is an opportunity for IS183 to take center stage as the county's main source for arts education.
"We've had some programs in northern Berkshires, but nothing of this scale before," Sullivan said.
"We want this to be dynamic, and we want it to respond to the interests of the artists and the community," she added.
The new program certainly met a need for Williamstown resident and novelist Emily Banner, the co-founder and artistic director of Inkberry. Since Inkberry closed, she said, the Berkshires have not had a tangible communal space for area writers to share and develop their work.
Hirsch approached Banner to become part of the program, and starting this month Banner will lead a Wednesday night workshop that will run for eight weeks. Writers of any level and experience can meet to talk about their craft.
In February, she will lead a more advanced course on developing characters in fiction. Writers who have work in progress can deepen and expand the people they are imagining.
"For me, the timing was fantastic," Banner said. "I had stepped away from Inkberry a few years before it folded, had a baby, but over the last few months I have been looking around for this kind of opportunity -- I really missed being part of a group that discussed writing on a regular basis."
For Maribeth Pomerantz, a Williamstown resident who lives near the schoolhouse, the new program gives a chance to share the arts with her daughter, who is in middle school.
Pomerantz said she and her daughter are looking into taking a needle felting class together.
"This is really a great opportunity for all of us," Pomerantz said. "I hope that this venture can be successful for our community."