LEBANON, N.H. – Bente Torjusen recently announced she will retire in December, after 30 years as the executive director of AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, N.H.
She said it’s a good time for this change, with the organization about to break ground on a new building for three-dimensional art and add related programs.
“AVA is currently at a wonderful crossroad,” Torjusen said. “This is a wonderful time for fresh new leadership.”
Torjusen’s art career began in her native country of Norway, where she worked as the education director of Oslo Municipal Art Collections, a division of the Munch Museum. There, her talent for connecting art with community grew, and that’s been pivotal to her work at AVA, the Alliance for the Visual Arts.
She may be retiring from AVA, but she will remain involved with the arts. She plans to delve into art projects of her own, mainly focusing on revitalizing her late husband’s career as an artist. Clifford West was a painter and muralist, photographer and filmmaker.
“My husband was a fabulous teacher here at AVA. He had a demanding eye for talent,” Torjusen said.
Well before her retirement from AVA, Torjusen will be a part of the unveiling of the new Three-Dimensional Studies Center. The groundbreaking for the new building is planned for April 4 and it is set for completion in the fall.
“I believe leaving at a time of expansion will be an exciting time for my successor, the organization and for myself,” Torjusen said.
AVA, founded in 1973 by a group of Upper Valley craftsmen and artists, began as a community gallery which occupied a small space on the second floor of the Dartmouth Bookstore building in Hanover. AVA currently occupies the 41,500-square-foot former H.W. Carter-Kelsey Building, once an overall factory.
“From our first small building, our current building of three floors offers 3,000 square feet of gallery space on the first floor, year-round courses in seven teaching studios, and we currently have 20 studios occupied by individual artists,” Torjusen said.
Over the past 30 years, Torjusen and AVA’s board of directors have built the organization into the art and education institution it is today, for people of all ages and abilities.
“We saw the tremendous potential within this community,” she said. “When we began offering educational programs we saw there was both an interest and a need for these classes. Today the schedule for classes is only growing, and with our new building underway, we will be implementing programs that address the design that mirrors the structure. The classes will address art and environmental issues, such as the Sustainable Architecture Workshop.”
In 2013, a new capital campaign called “Branching Out, Deepening Roots” was implemented under Torjusen’s leadership. The focal point of this $3.5 million campaign is the construction of the new building, which will include solar panels on the roof.
“Bente’s undertaking for green building is as astounding as her devotion to art, artists, and the community. She has put AVA on the path to becoming a net-zero-energy organization,” said Stuart White, Jr., AVA board member.
“The solar array will be woven into the design of the new 3-D Studies Center,” he added. “With Bente’s wonderful blend of art and science the green building will not only make for wonderful architecture, but to house the educational classes addressing environmental issues.”
White is also the architect for the 3-D Studies Center and upcoming changes to the Carter-Kelsey building.
During the 3-D Studies Center project, the Carter-Kelsey building will undergo improvements as well, including creating a Member Artist Gallery and some structural improvements that will allow for the installation of solar panels on the roof of that building.
Torjusen explained that AVA certainly has a vision – a road map for the future.
“Through new programming opportunities AVA will move forward and continue to build on the already solid foundation,” she said. “It will take a key player to add and expand on this vision. With the new building set for completion this fall, it will open several doors for just that.”
An additional goal of the campaign was to payoff the mortgage on the H.W. Carter-Kelsey Building come this fall. The fulfillment of goals this year only adds to the tremendous legacy that will be handed over to the next pair of creative hands.
“I am leaving a ship that is strong and proud and is moving forward,” Torjusen said. “There will always be some waves ahead, but those waves will just add to the sail of exploration guided by the next executive director. I look forward to seeing what change will bring to AVA in the future and what will unfold during my own exploration next year.”