Sep 3, 201511:15 AMArt Beat

The Art Center School and Galleries of Mechanicsburg

Sep 3, 2015 - 11:15 AM
The Art Center School and Galleries of Mechanicsburg

Photography by Britt Macaulay

You’ve spent spirit-crushing hours in front of computer screens, on conference calls, riding elevators and sitting in cubicles – maybe realizing your true professional potential has left you wanting, no, yearning for a little creative zing in your life.  Jeanine Swartz, executive director of The Art Center in Mechanicsburg, has got just what you need: an opportunity to embrace the spark you’ve always known you’ve had in you, an opportunity to become an artist.


From its humble beginnings in a Mechanicsburg church basement in 1954, The Art Center School and Galleries has expanded through the years to occupy a number of unique locations, including a space known as “The Egg House,” where farmers used to bring their eggs for sale, and a grocery store.

Today, the nonprofit organization embraces its historic home in a barn at the outskirts of downtown Mechanicsburg.  It is a bustling tangle of exhibit and practice space strewn with supplies and paint-dappled wooden desks.  The barn is held together overhead by beams of tree trunks still encased in chipping bark, clearly built in a day when rough-hewn construction was the only kind.


The building itself was chosen in 1971 for its incredible size, noted at the time as a location that the organization expected to never outgrow.  Through the flurry of activity, the calm drone of pottery wheels, the chemical scent of paints and supplies, the titter of students, both young and old, as they work with their hands and paper, you’d never guess the space could have been considered nearly too big.


Swartz appears at ease in her position as director of the busy collective, and she should, having stood at the helm of the center since 1997. She has seen the organization through the challenging years of The Great Recession, when the children’s summer art camps stood as a bastion of hope, thriving while the adult classes dwindled.  This year, Swartz can boast record attendance in an overwhelming array of classes for adults, teens and children.


From beginners to advanced, from repeat attendees to first-timers, the educational offerings keep all 25 of The Art Center’s instructors busy, not to mention the organizations two staff members.  From drawing and pastel, to pottery classes, glass blowing, abstract art, jewelry making, sculpture, painting, photography and so much more, students can engage in private lessons, group classes or summer camps.  There are date nights, art parties, pastoral field trips and just about every iteration of class structure you can imagine.


Maybe this is why Swartz, a “signature status” artist herself with the National Watercolor Society, seems a little nervous for the bulk of the day to begin.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the center is bursting at the seams with activity, having grown from 15 classes a quarter in her inaugural year as director to over 80 classes a quarter this year.  And maybe this is why Swartz is an apparent mainstay for the organization, as growth at this level and pace doesn’t happen without strong, informed and educated leadership.  She is clearly an artist’s artist, impassioned with her charge as she continues to lead the organization in new directions.

Swartz has seen how art touches people, and seated in front of a painting of her own, one she’d painted of her sister, it is understandable that she would want to bring the power of the arts to her community.  In service of this goal, fundraising is top of mind, as it is with nearly every nonprofit endeavor.


Primary support, of course, comes from the truly affordable class offerings, but come August 22, the organization will host its second annual Lobster Dinner Benefit, cooking up fresh Maine lobster on-site for prices competitive with most fine-dining experiences.


Membership in the organization also comes with benefits and at a perfectly reasonable cost.

As an exhibit space, The Art Center hosts the 9th Annual Keystone National, a juried exhibition of works on paper, from September 11 through October 2.


If you’ve never been, your first stop in investigating this rich center for arts engagement should be their website –  And remember, you’re just one step away from realizing your true artistic potential.

About This Blog

Art matters from a financial, cultural vibrancy and economic growth perspective, and ultimately it affects the quality of life for those with access to it. It's the visceral impact of the arts that hits hard and lingers long:  the way that an indelible image may worm its imprint into your eye and then mind and then dreams.  The forlorn droop of a melody, and the sign of resignation from a local trumpet player's final note. The unbearably gorgeous and aching silence of the final scene of a film shot in our region.  Every one of these offerings exists here in the midstate, and beats strong with art, and we must support it.


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