Keeping Track of Judith McElhone
Those of us who have lived in many places may wonder what our lives would be like if we still lived where we were born. Perhaps instead of being transient citizens with vague recollections of towns prior and fleeting memories of people we scarcely knew, we would have acquired a deeper and more acute understanding of place. Judith McElhone’s life advocates in favor of her local trajectory, from the Torrington house where she was born to Five Points Gallery on Main Street she founded in 2012, only blocks away. Her roots in Litchfield County seem to have led providentially to her current and biggest challenge: to transform the former University of Connecticut Regional Campus in Torrington into the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts.
After a long career as an artist and educator, McElhone might have rested on her considerable laurels. In just seven years, McElhone has created dynamic partnerships with Five Points Gallery, Hartford Art School, University of Connecticut College of Art, and Northwestern Connecticut Community College. To date, more than 500 artists have exhibited their work at Five Points. The gallery’s lecture series has included luminaries such as philanthropist Agnes Gund, artist Eric Fischl, collector Dorothy Vogel, and curator Ann Temkin. The gallery’s Launchpad program has prepared many students to enter today’s complex art world. And just down the street, Five Points Annex Gallery provides a non-juried forum for Torrington community artists.
Ever the optimist, in May 2018, when McElhone first learned that the property on University Drive was for sale, she immediately imagined the languishing 90-acre, 29,000 square foot site as the new Five Points Center for the Visual Arts. McElhone envisions the Center as the nexus for a revitalized Torrington, a place where creative people would be drawn to northwest Connecticut to make, perform, and learn about many forms of art, and as a harbinger of shops and restaurants that inevitably follow vanguard art enterprises.
McElhone was undaunted by naysayers, convincing state and local leaders that her cause was not only exciting, but important for the future of Torrington and greater Connecticut. Rallying the community, McElhone soon raised the initial sum of $275,000 to acquire the property from the state. In turn, the state will use those proceeds to provide financial aid for Torrington area students attending UConn. An ambitious capital campaign will be launched, and actor Kevin Bacon has agreed to be the Honorary Chair.
The vision plan for the Center includes art classes, artist residencies, and workshop spaces for traditional mediums, such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking. But there are also aspirations to offer video, photography, textile, installation, and performance art. The facility includes a 220-seat theatre, and a commercial kitchen, resources McElhone wants to utilize for dance, a sculpture park, performance art, and music presentations, along with culinary studies, and a farm-to-table café that promise to attract audiences from throughout and beyond the tri-state area.
The potential for Five Points Center for the Visual Arts seems limitless. Like a neo-Bauhaus in the Litchfield Hills, it promises to be a creative laboratory, a locus for singular expressions and collaborative projects, providing artists, students, and audiences opportunities to open their minds. As McElhone presides over this transformative cultural endeavor, she fully appreciates the long arc of her life, from her childhood home to Torrington High School and Hartford Art School, to marrying fellow Torrington native, James McElhone, to raising their four children. Her sense of place is both personal and expansive, and she is definitely here at the right time.
(Photo at top: Judith McElhone with Susan Clinard’s sculpture Waiting Room #3)