MIDDLEBURY — The former Vermont State Craft Center (VSCC) building at 1 Mill St. in Middlebury will reopen this fall as an art gallery, this time under private ownership.
Cornwall resident George Dorsey last week confirmed his plan to purchase the Frog Hollow building, which for more than three decades had been owned and operated by the nonprofit VSCC as a gallery, retail store and headquarters for art and craft classes.
Financial problems prompted the VSCC to shut down its Middlebury operations this past January and put the Mill Street property on the market. The state craft center also closed its Manchester gallery, but continues to operate a successful retail store on Church Street in Burlington.
Dorsey on Thursday said he has hired Peter Alpers as director of what will be called “Edgewater Gallery.” Alpers, who lives in Massachusetts, will curate and market the gallery space to artists from throughout Vermont and the region.
“We will cast a wide net for contributors to the inventory,” Alpers said during a phone interview on Thursday.
Alpers will soon hire a local, full-time manager for the business, along with a handful of part-time workers who will staff the gallery, which he said will be open for a combined total of around 55-60 hours per week, Tuesday through Sunday.
Plans call for Edgewater Gallery to open with a show featuring “a handful of works from a dozen artists,” Alpers said. Ensuing gallery shows will probably feature more extensive samples from three or four artists at a time that will probably show for two months. In this manner, the gallery will be able to offer six different gallery exhibits in its first year, Alpers said.
Exhibited works will, of course, be for sale. The gallery will also solicit crafts from area artists to showcase and sell.
“We also expect to keep some pieces in storage,” Alpers said, noting that art buyers often like to think things over for awhile before making a purchase.
There should be ample room for storage in the Mill Street building, which the VSCC had divided into a 4,000-square-foot gallery and another 3,000 square feet of space that had been used for arts education classes. A separate nonprofit has taken over the arts education classes in other locations.
The building has been assessed by the town at $283,700.
Last week saw workers making various improvements to both the interior and exterior of the building. Upgrades, according to Alpers, will include new carpeting, restroom improvements, interior painting and some carpentry work on the outside of the building. At least one wall is being taken down and a former office will be converted to gallery space, according to Alpers.
While Alpers has not yet picked a specific date for the gallery opening, he said “we are absolutely determined to be open for the full holiday shopping season. We have a very ambitious timetable.”
Dorsey would not rule out future development scenarios for the Mill Street site, but noted the condition of the current building, parking and access will require ample study.
“Right now, we have our hands full trying to make a modest success out of a commercial operation in that same building,” Dorsey said.
Middlebury selectmen on Sept. 22 removed a potential obstacle to Dorsey’s purchase when they waived the town’s right of first refusal on a portion of the VSCC property. They waived all rights, with the exception of a small, triangular parcel critical to the municipality maintaining its water rights near the Otter Creek Falls, for which the town got a warranty deed.
The sale of the Mill Street building is bittersweet news for VSCC board members, who reluctantly parted with the building in order to shore up the organization’s finances.
“We are happy to see a person able to fix (the building) and treat it with TLC,” said VSCC board member Nancie Dunn. “We want people to keep Frog Hollow in their memories and in their hearts.”
Dunn also believes a renovated and re-energized gallery in the building could serve as a catalyst to revive the arts-and-crafts scene in Frog Hollow. Several arts-related businesses have disappeared from the neighborhood in recent years, in spite of a successful revamping of the pedestrian alley that links the former VSCC building and adjacent storefronts.
“We hope a renovated building will be a first step in revitalizing a part of the downtown that has been dormant for a while,” Dunn said.