CHESTER, Vt. – As you enter the newly remodeled space at 287 Main St., Chester, Vt., your eyes are immediately drawn to rows upon rows of beautiful glass jars holding creative materials that line the walls. From recycled subway tiles to natural pussy willows, this studio holds magic in every corner, as wells as just about every art supply you could imagine.
Community Art Garden is on a mission to connect people with their inner artist, and they have something to inspire everyone, even those who don’t consider themselves creative. Next to the big picture window in front sits an extensive collection of natural materials: pinecones, daffodils, smooth pebbles, scallop shells, zinnia, marigold, and more, all neatly tucked into glass jars. It is a fairy house maker’s delight in all the colors of the rainbow. Behind the register, assorted jars of supplies line long white shelves at eye level, and below, trays of sparkling multi-colored crystal beads sit sorted and stored in various sized seashells. It is all the work of owner and visionary Emily Burkland who feels when things are organized in this way it is pleasing to the eye and easier for people to connect with the materials. It would be impossible to go on listing the contents of this tiny community studio tucked into the North End of the Green, and some of it would surprise you as they aren’t what you’d find in a traditional art studio. This makes sense, because this is not your average community art studio and owner Emily Burkland is not your average artist. After a few very quiet years, Community Art Garden is about to come out in a big way.
“The idea, back in 2013 when we first opened, was to create a community art studio meets an exploratory sensory classroom experience,” says Burkland. “The sensory kitchen emerged organically soon after we opened. The kids absolutely love it!” The sensory kitchen sits in the back of the studio and is a special space where kids are encouraged to play with water, natural materials, mortars, pestles, spoons, pots, funnels, sand, etc. It is an indoor sensory playground and it is here where you get a sense of Burkland’s background as an early childhood educator for more than 20 years. It was the art centered “Reggio Emilia Approach” to working with young children that fueled her drive to create a community art studio and atelier, where people of all ages can take a class and be creative, regardless of their skill level. “Feeling creative is important for our development, regardless of our age,” notes Burkland. “I think it is the piece that is missing most from our lives in present day. People ask me what kinds of things I teach at the studio, and I answer, ‘I teach creativity.’” The excitement is palpable: Since being closed almost the entirety of the pandemic, the reopening will feature a partial line-up of classes this spring. It is a slow but big step back into it all, with a few days of after-school programming, one morning class, and some Saturday offerings, all kicking off with a grand celebration on Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 28 from 1–5 p.m.
“I have always wanted to be part of the fun since moving to the green Memorial Day Weekend in 2019. Who knew it would take three years to get to this point?” says Burkland. Starting this year, Community Art Garden will join the bustle of Memorial Day activities on the Chester Green with their first annual Spring Color Splash celebration on Saturday, May 28 from 1–5 p.m. All ages and abilities of artists are invited to come and take advantage of the opportunity to connect with their inner artist and to help “color splash” the front porch of the studio with yarn, willow, and natural materials. This free invitation will be set up for the community to come out and weave, connect, and play. With sidewalk chalk in the alley and weaving and winding and making on the porch, Burkland hopes the community will take some time to get creative and play. Inside the studio, for a fee, there will be tables lined with beautiful invitations designed to inspire, as well as the sensory kitchen, available in half-hour spots. First come, first served, or by reservation via their website.
The creative rainbow of fun starts in spring and carries on all summer long with a new series of Summer Camps on the schedule as well as the return of some favorite homeschool classes for ages 4-8 in the fall of 2022. All of these inspiring invitations can be found at www.communityartgarden.com, where you can join their mailing list and take a virtual peek around the studio. It is an exciting time to be in Chester, and Community Art Garden is ready to embrace the color and spring into creativity.