Thomas Walters, executive director for Sweetwater Center for the Arts, stands in front of an art installation inside of the Center’s new location on Beaver Street.
If the Old Sewickley Post Office — home of Sweetwater Center for the Arts — is the Mona Lisa, then Studio419 is Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.
Located in the heart of the Village at 419 Beaver St., the studio is 3,000 square feet of possibility. For now, pops of color greet visitors to the contemporary space, but Studio419 will be a place capable of morphing into whatever young artists and the community want it to be.
“We’re 44 years old. To be successful in what you do, you have to change and make sure you’re working toward a mission, and you have to make sure that mission is relevant,” said Thomas Walters, Sweetwater executive director. “Part of my vision for the organization … is to figure out what we do best, and what the community wants us to do.”
Sweetwater offers classes, workshops and lectures in the visual, performing, literary and culinary arts for children through adults. Where Walters and others saw a need was with middle and high school students, an age group they don’t see a lot of at their 200 Broad St. headquarters, which was built in 1910.
“What is there has been there and will be there, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we wanted a space that could transform and alter,” Walters said. “Our core programming will feature working artists in the studio for partially guided instruction.”
Studio419 will also be a gallery space, the hub of community art pieces, and a place where adult artists can work during the day.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air for the staff,” Walters said. “For about 30 years, it’s been business as usual — and that’s not a negative thing — but we needed something to get excited about.”
The space is under lease through October by Kirsten Recker, who owned gift shop Barberry Handmade until it closed in December. Recker started discussing the idea of a community art space with artist Thressia Kriebel in 2018. Walters said the hope is to secure a long-term lease by securing funding and sponsorship.
In the future, Walters can see offering STEAM programming and building relationships with Quaker Valley and Sewickley Academy to enrich students’ art exposure.
The community will get a chance to explore Studio419 during a “Spill the Tea Party” from 6 to 9 p.m. April 4. Recker, Kriebel, their children and Quaker Valley students have been transforming the space for the grand opening, when student artwork will be on display and guests will be able to participate in interactive projects that will later be a part of public art pieces.
“It’s exciting,” Walters said. “We’re starting a new conversation. It’s the right time and place to do that.”
Photos by Gwen Stonesifer | For the Tribune-Review