For the past 50 years, the Dorchester Center for the Arts’ (DCA) moniker is “art for all.” That was true in 1970, as it remains to this day. It is free to enter DCA and soak in the exhibits and browse the gift shop. You don’t need to be a member, either, to attend classes. It truly is an arts destination for everyone.
“We’re not just a facility,” explains Barbara Seese, executive director. “We consider the Dorchester Center for the Arts as a true community partner.”
About 13,000 people a year visit DCA, located in the former Nathan building on High Street in downtown Cambridge, enjoying exhibits, concerts, plays, dance, art workshops, classes, and so much more. Barb adds, “Up to four generations in one family has been touched by DCA, and I think that is so profound.”
Exhibits in the DCA galleries change monthly, and feature local, regional, and national artists. The onsite artisan’s gift shop, Studioworks, features original art by local artists in a variety of mediums from jewelry to pottery, and weaving to photography.
Classrooms are filled with year-round educational opportunities for both adults and youth, and summer features a children’s arts program for all ages. While some are on hiatus due to the coronavirus, several interest groups call DCA home: Baywater Camera Club, Choptank Writers, Friday Morning Drawing, Fiber Fridays, Cambridge Ukelele Club, and Tuesday Open Paint.
Additional special interest programs are offered in the galleries and the performance hall, such as the recent heritage event celebrating the traditional art of decoy carving on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “Carved in History: The Art of the Decoy” included educational exhibits and featured hands-on demonstrations, discussions, exhibits, and youth activities. DCA supports this traditional art through ongoing decoy carving classes with master carver Warren Saunders. The Smithsonian WaterWays traveling exhibition was hosted in the DCA performance hall in 2019.
Additionally, through its service as the designated Arts Council for Dorchester, DCA sponsors and supports community arts activities in the county. Community arts grants are provided to non-profit organizations every year to support arts programming. Schools also receive funding each year for arts in education programming that includes special performances and artist residencies.
For over 40 years, DCA has presented the annual Showcase event, an art walk and street festival held along historic High Street that showcases local artists and artisans as well as community organizations and maritime heritage. For over a decade, DCA has presented the Guest Artist Gala, an annual fundraising event that pairs professional artists with community leaders not generally perceived as artists. Together they create a work of art for auction that benefits programs at DCA.
DCA also undertakes projects in partnership with other community groups, and recently launched “Dorchester Cares: A Tapestry for Change,” a social justice community arts project.
While the pandemic has impacted all programs and events since March, there has been a shift to digital programming and the fall program catalog includes several online classes instructed by national artists. DCA has also assisted in the recognition, understanding, and preservation of the Harriet Tubman story, through the commission of the Harriet Tubman mural “Take My Hand,” painted on the side of the Harriet Tubman Museum in downtown Cambridge.
Month of October: “Behind the Mask” features works by various artists exploring the connection between COVID-19 and creativity. In the front gallery, the exhibit includes works by patients at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center.
October 10: Second Saturday Artists’ Reception via Facebook at 5:30 p.m.
October 23: 5th Annual Plein Air Golf Tournament and Artist Showcase, Hyatt River Marsh Golf Club.
Month of November: “Close to Home, Reflections of the Shore” features works from Carla Huber, Anne Allbeury-Hock and Patti Lucas Hopkins.
November/December: “Wednesday Morning Artists and Friends: Gallery of Gifts” exhibition features unique original arts and artisan goods by local and regional artists.
November 14 and December 12: Second Saturday Artists’ Reception via Facebook at 5:30 p.m.
Ongoing: Artful Interest Groups are currently meeting via Zoom, including Choptank Writers (Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m.); Baywater Camera Club (Wednesdays, 6 p.m.); and Fiber Fridays (Fridays, 10:30 a.m.-noon).
The Fall Catalog is now available, with a mixture of virtual and in-person classes. Visit www.dorchesterarts.org for more information and the complete fall catalog.
An Historical Review
It was spring of 1970 that three local artists, Shirley Brannock, John Bannon and Robert Tolley, decided that it was important to establish a center for the arts to serve the people of Dorchester County. The trio were all graduates of the Maryland Institute of Art, educators and practicing painters. The three artists launched a search for a place where a broad-based arts program could be concentrated.
Several years earlier, the County Commissioners had purchased an 18th century house at 120 High Street as part of a program to build a new county office building on Cambridge Creek. Impressed by the enthusiasm of the three artists, the county officials offered the use of three rooms in the house, provided an appropriate corporation was established.
On August 17, 1970, the initial meeting to organize a community arts center was held. Cambridge attorney Vernon E. Robbins was asked to draw up papers of incorporation, which were signed by the three founding artists. Committees on bylaws and on objectives were named. The first official meeting of the new Arts Center was held on October 5.
Nominees for directors and terms of service were decided. The Center chose as its first president, William J. Cotton, a Dorchester educator, who played a part in establishing the Dorchester Arts Show (now called Showcase). Other officers were Edward N. Evans, Jr., Vice President; Mrs. Lawrence Ewell, Jr., Corresponding Secretary; Dr. Peter Van Huizen, Recording Secretary; and Mrs. Joseph (Georgie) Feldman, Treasurer. Original Board members included Arthur Kamens, Vernon Robbins, Thomas Fetherston, Mrs. Jesse Hester, Mrs. Ray W. Moore, Mrs. W. Grason (Beebe) Winterbottom III, and Maurice Rimpo.
The stated purpose of the new corporation was to receive and disperse funds both public and private to promote cultural activities through cooperative study, direction and action by groups, public and private, or individuals interested in the arts, crafts and other cultural needs of Dorchester, and also to be able to make distributions to other qualified non-profit organizations.
Today, DCA continues to be governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, and also relies on dedicated volunteers for assistance with programs and events. As per the official mission statement: “Dorchester Center for the Arts is dedicated to enriching Maryland’s Eastern Shore community through high quality, engaging programming in the visual, literary, musical and performing arts. As the designated County Arts Council for Dorchester County, the Center for the Arts is committed to increasing access to the arts for all members of our community by supporting extensive outreach and educational opportunities in the arts.”
According to Georgie Feldman, DCA’s Original Treasurer and a 50-year volunteer, “Dorchester County has always been the hidden gem of the Eastern Shore with its beautiful expanses of water and fertile farmlands. The Opening of the DCA established it as a Cultural Center as well, providing access to visual, literary, musical, and other performing arts through programs and instruction.”
Membership was a part of the original organizational structure and continues. DCA has a membership of just over 700, but its programs are open to all. Membership benefits include discounts and priority registration for programs and events, discounts in the gift shop and gallery, and discounts at participating local restaurants. Proceeds from membership have a huge impact on the ability to offer scholarships and broaden program offerings.
In 2002, Dorchester County purchased the Nathan Building site, with funds from Maryland’s program open space, for the designated use by the Dorchester Center for the Arts. In December 2002, the building was leased to the Center for the Arts, with the stipulation that DCA be responsible for all improvements and maintenance.
In December 2005, a Capital Campaign was launched for Phase 1 renovations on the first floor. The Phase 2 renovation included the second floor Performance Hall. This new space allowed for theatre, concerts, film, dance, special events, and private rentals to both individuals and businesses.