Photo by Emily Matthews
By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times
BEAVER FALLS — An open arts studio in Beaver Falls allows residents of all ages to express imagination and creativity long after the school dismissal bell rings.
For over a decade, the Center for Creative Arts Expression has provided children and adults of Beaver Falls the opportunity to channel creative energy into artwork.
Geraldine Jackson McCorr, 61, of Beaver Falls, founded the center, or CCAE, in 2006 in addition to her job as an art teacher at Beaver Falls High School.
Now the nonprofit’s executive director, McCorr first encountered the idea of an open arts studio when visiting one in Chicago during her studies for a graduate degree in arts therapy at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
“I thought, ‘that would be something I would want to do,’” McCorr said. “The goal is to contribute something positive to the community.”
The CCAE operates in a building previously owned by Reeves Bank. McCorr said on opening day of the CCAE, she briefly locked herself in the vault that now serves as a very secure pottery studio.
Along with pottery wheels and a kiln, the CCAE also includes several desks and tables with arts and crafts supplies for open studio time and the many classes and summer camps it offers. Already, the center has held two camps that conclude with a field trip either to The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington or Gateway to the Arts in Pittsburgh. McCorr said these trips act as “a nice bonding experience for families.”
The CCAE also has a music annex two doors down with several keyboards, a piano and a drum set. The annex provides a performance space and the center offers piano lessons there.
“We have different teachers for different things and we create new classes whenever we need,” McCorr said.
Vickie Gant, of Beaver Falls, who volunteers at the center and attended high school with McCorr, expressed her admiration for the center’s contribution to the community.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “There are all different crafts and it gives the kids something to do.”
Betty Kirkland, of Beaver Falls, also volunteers by leading “one or two” arts and craft classes per week, like one that involved transforming soup cans into Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax-themed pencil holders during open studio time from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
McCorr stressed the community aspect of CCAE with most of the work there being undertaken by volunteers. In 2015, WQED awarded McCorr with a Volunteer in the Arts (VITA) award for her work.
The center has only one paid employee, Anita Underwood, who has worked as the center’s receptionist for three years. Underwood said the center “is a wonderful place and everyone should take advantage of it.”
CCAE runs on $15 and $20 membership fees, donations and allotted money from the county. McCorr said she has a core of around 15 frequent visitors, but camps, classes and events like “Art in the Park” draw in around 40 or more participants. Seasonal sports causes enrollment to fluctuate, however.
“We didn’t want cost to be a deterrent, but we need to keep the lights on,” McCorr said.
“There’s part of me that doesn’t want grants. Everybody has a stake in it and you should have to give something so you can appreciate it.”
McCorr grew up in Beaver Falls and her family owned both Jackson’s Barber Shop, founded by her grandfather in 1923, and Jackson Transport.
Her husband, Walter McCorr, died in March. She said he believed in her and helped run the center every step of the way.
“A lot of people helped and supported me and I couldn’t do it without volunteers,” McCorr said. “Everybody pitches in and works to give back to the community.”
Mary Beth Leeman, principal of Beaver Falls High School where McCorr has taught general and fine arts for the last 18 years, said McCorr is a “phenomenal” teacher with “great rapport among students and staff.”
McCorr has scheduled educational field trips for art students, including one to Europe in 2015 and one to China in 2016.
Leeman said some of McCorr’s students volunteer at CCAE, and faculty at Beaver Falls High School have helped the center by donating art supplies.
“Whether it’s pottery or drawing, she gets the kids interested,” Leeman said.
Along with a fluid relationship with the high school, the center has collaborated with nearby Geneva College holding “Crafternoon” events from 2011 to 2015. McCorr said she looks to work with the college again in the future.
She said she plans to make efforts to make more arts and craft supplies available in the community to spark interest in art. Two of her students at Beaver Falls High School will help with the enterprise.
Beaver Falls senior Maddi Frishkorn and junior Ethan Funkhauser will assist McCorr for the rest of the summer as part of a job-training program for non-profit. Their tasks include organizing, helping children make crafts and participating in community outreach programs like the new “Art on the Move,” which looks to bring art supplies to area parks and playgrounds.
“I think it’s nice to see people engaging in the creative aspects of their lives,” Frishkorn said.
In addition to the job-training students, Liz Pagley and her son, Cameron, a sophomore at Beaver Falls, often volunteer their time at the center. Cameron took one of McCorr’s general arts classes at the school and helps at the center during summer and fall.
“(Ms. McCorr) makes sure you’re on task but also lets you go your own direction creatively,” Cameron said.
The center will continues its “Art in the Park” series throughout the summer and continue to incite creativity among the city’s residents.
“Art is for everyone,” McCorr said. “Everyone has some kind of creativity in them. I think that’s what we are about here, creating a safe place for people to express themselves.”