YorkArts rediscovering itself as it goes through major revamp


YorkArts is in the midst of a major revamp that will not only reconfigure and upgrade its buildings in York City but also change how it operates.

The nonprofit organization plans to refocus its efforts and increase its art education programs, said Kevin Lenkner, its executive director.

"We used to be this Swiss army knife of the arts in York," Lenker said.

The revamp is the culmination of massive capital campaign drive that raised $1.5 million, well above its $1.3 million goal.

As part of the 25-year-old YorkArts rediscovering itself, it will undergo a name change, but Lenker and his staff are mum on what its new name will be.

"YorkArts 3.0 will not look like the YorkArts that your father knew and loved," he said.

Upgrades: Inside the once vibrant YorkArts main facility at 10 N. Beaver St., the gallery's white walls are bare, free of the artwork that traditionally hung on them, and there's a pile of unwanted things — a box of travel coffee mugs near an old boom box among an assortment of other stuff — on the floor.

After apologizing for the mess, Lenker explained, his hands moving as he talked, what the building will look like once construction is finished.

The upper floor will be altered to include more classroom space and offices, and the pottery studio in the basement will be redone.

Already one of YorkArt's more popular features, the new pottery studio will have 12 pottery wheels, up from two that used to be there, and kilns will be a separate room, allowing ceramics to be fired during classes, said Mindy Christian, director of education.

The gallery also will undergo an overhaul that includes LED, energy-efficient lighting, and a digital arts studio also is planned for the building.

Construction is expected to get underway in a few weeks, and YorkArts will reopen under its new name in the autumn.

Elsewhere: The organization's second location, YorkArts@CityArts at 118 W. Philadelphia St., also will be updated, Lenkner said.

As part of the revamped YorkArts, the organization is looking to expand beyond downtown York and plans to open a satellite campus, possibly in the Shrewsbury area, in the future.

When it reopens, the arts organization will offer a host of new art exhibitions as well as a community supported arts program in which patrons can buy shares that will earn them works of art and more.

With construction at its main facility about to get underway, YorkArts employees are in exile, working from CoWork 55 on nearby West Market Street.

But that doesn't mean the organization isn't offering arts programs this summer. It has arts camps at Paul Smith Library in Shrewsbury and Martin Library in the city, and its Arts in the Parks is still being held.

Education: Lenkner and his staff say their goal is to get more people, particularly children, to tap into their creative sides by offering more educational programs.

With funding for arts classes being slashed — or in some cases, done away with altogether — in some school districts as they face financial woes, Lenkner said YorkArts is looking to fill that gap.

"If kids don't have that creativity growing up, they all become robots in the work place," he said, adding creativity scores in the United States have been on a steady decline for more than two decades.

Studies have shown skills students learn in art classes could help improve literacy, among other things.

Children also learn problem-solving and communication skills through the arts, said Laura Abbott, YorkArts' director of marketing and development.

"It's not something that's just given to people. It can be taught and brought out," Lenkner said.

Support still needed: Though YorkArts' capital campaign has officially ended, the York City-based arts organization is continuing to accept donations that will be used to help fund its operations. Donations can be made by going to yorkarts.org and clicking on the "Capital Campaign" tab.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.