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Happy to Be Here: Bright spot on the horizon


Bright spots do appear amid the dark days of Covid-19, when the light at the end of the tunnel seems to move farther and farther away.
Pete Chiavarou fairly bubbles over with enthusiasm when he talks about it.

He is the president of the Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County, which has announced that after almost 50 years, the council has a home – not just any home but one in the heart of Doylestown, the county seat and its cultural center.

“We never had a meeting place,” he said. This is a great opportunity.” Bucks County Community College has provided an office for the Arts and Cultural Council but it has never had its own meeting space or its own gallery to promote its artists.

The new space, called the Community Meeting Center, is in Freeman Hall, which was built as a residence for J. Monroe and Carolyn Shellenberger in 1887. It is now the property of Salem United Church of Christ, across East Court Street. Freeman Hall is already occupied by the Alan Fetterman Gallery and the Pennsylvania Center for Photography. It’s just blocks away from the Michener Art Museum and, the Bucks County Free Library and the Bucks County Historical Society’s Mercer Museum. It’s down the street from Bucks Beautiful and around the corner from the Doylestown Historical Society’s headquarters and museum.

You might say the Arts Council alliance is a match made in heaven – with Salem Church Pastor David Green’s blessing and its like-minded occupants.

The inspiration for using the building came about in a casual conversation between Ruth Anderson and Bruce Rutherford of Rutherford’s Camera Shop, who represents Freeman Hall for the church. The idea caught on and negotiations have been going on for about a year.

Meanwhile the council has held annual exhibitions and led the “Art of Oscar” show last year at lyricist Oscar Hammerstein’s former home, Highland Farm in Doylestown Township. Arts Council members Jane Ramsey and Robbin Farr tested the waters last fall with a pop-up exhibition at Freeman Hall.

“This alliance is so strong,” Chiarvarou said. “We’re not going to let it die off.”

Plans are in place for an open house as soon as the community is release from stay-at-home orders related to coronavirus statistics. Then there will be classes on marketing, law, public relations, art techniques, film, writing, painting, sculpture and photography – an array of instruction to help local artists grow.

The council recently enhanced its website, making it more user friendly and useful for online exhibitions and webinars. All artist members will have their own virtual galleries.

The Community Meeting Center will provide the Arts and Cultural Council and all of its members with ongoing exhibition and event spaces and an upstairs meeting room with regular hours and space for intimate art shares, portfolio reviews and coffee and conversation sessions.

The council has roots in an earlier organization, the Bucks County Council on the Arts, which became the focal point for support of the arts in Bucks County in 1974. Former Michener Art Museum Senior Curator Brian H. Peterson wrote in his book “The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County,” that the original organization was “the focal point for the encouragement and promotion of the arts in the region.” The council sponsored exhibitions and programs, published a newsletter, and established archives representing over 1,500 Bucks County artists.

“In 1985, the Council on the Arts joined forces with the Bucks County Commissioners to convert the Bucks County Prison into an art museum,” according to a press release from today’s Arts and Cultural Council. They reached their goal, establishing the Michener Art Museum, before fading away.

A group of artists, philanthropists and government officials led by artist Katharine Steele Renninger formed a steering committee a steering committee in the early 2000s to re-establish The Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County. They forged alliances with arts and cultural organizations throughout the county to create the present council, which includes arts organizations and artists.

Members of the board of directors come from many walks of life. President Pete Chiarvarou is a jazz musician, a bass player. His position today is directing the Zlock Performing Arts Center on the community college campus. He talks about board members’ deep passion for the council. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds because of that passion,” he said.

“We are eager to be a part of bringing this vision forward for the entire council and its members: “We are looking forward to really using the space to strengthen our mission and support our members in meaningful ways. The possibilities are endless.”

For now, the Community Meeting Center at Freeman Hall will be featured on the new website, and the A&C is moving forward behind the scenes to have components ready for the day the planning comes together. The move-in date is up in the air until state and county guidelines change. “We will err on the side of caution,” the press release notes.

But, the council promises, “The opening of the Arts & Cultural Council at Freeman Hall will be celebrated properly – once Bucks County reopens, a few walls are painted, some member artwork is hung, and the A&C board moves into its upstairs community meeting space.”

Reach out to the council at, or