AVA Gallery and Art Center (Alliance for the Visual Arts) is dedicated to promoting the visual arts through exhibitions and educational programs that nurture, support and challenge New England artists, and to providing art classes for children, teens and adults of all levels and abilities. AVA’s programs—including special events that foster interaction among artists, patrons of the arts and the community, and which emphasize sustainability—are dedicated to recognizing the ways in which art enriches our lives.
Scholarship, internship and volunteer opportunities are integral to AVA’s programming.
Founded in 1973, AVA (Alliance for the Visual Arts) is a 501 (C)(3) not-for-profit organization.
History of AVA
While AVA today occupies the Carter-Kelsey Building at 11 Bank Street in Lebanon, NH, in 1973–when a handful of Upper Valley artists decided to look for a place to show their work–its first location was in a barn.
On August 28, 1973, the following notice appeared in the Valley News:
- Norwich– “The Community Gallery, located in the rustic barn of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Nye, adjacent to the Congregational Church, is now open to visitors. The Gallery features paintings, sculpture, graphics, photography, pottery, batik, macrame and jewelry by craftsmen and artists from Vermont and New Hampshire. It is operated by persons who donate their time and talent to managing the entire program.”
The Gallery moved to Hanover in July of 1974 where it occupied the lower level of 35 South Main Street (where Rare Essentials for Men is now), sharing space with “Harris Business Machines.” It was to remain at this location for only one year. In July of 1975, the Gallery moved to the second floor of 3 Allen Street and, in 1985 to the second floor of 5 Allen Street behind Dartmouth Bookstore.
By 1974, the Gallery had 35 artist members, all practicing painters, printmakers, sculptors and photographers. In one year, the scope of the artists’ ambitions had grown to include a desire to encourage development and appreciation of the arts in the surrounding communities. In 1976 it received non-profit status, and became incorporated as the Community Gallery Inc.
During AVA’s years in Hanover, many changes took place at the gallery. Initially, the gallery functioned as a cooperative: artists who joined as members for an annual fee took turns gallery sitting, hanging shows, etc. By 1978 a Board of Directors had been elected and Francine Vidal was appointed as the Gallery’s first paid director, a position initially funded by CETA. It was during the early Hanover years that the Gallery acquired the name AVA, or “Alliance for the Visual Arts.”
The initial offering of art classes was a major occurrence. Artists and instructors of note, such as Hannes Beckmann and Aidron Duckworth, contributed much to AVA’s educational program during these early years. In particular, professor Beckmann’s lecture series on color theory placed AVA on the map.
One of the most popular classes, that of Life Drawing, was first offered in 1980. In 1985, just after the Gallery had moved to 5 Allen Street, Elizabeth Austin became AVA’s director, a position she held until the end of 1986. Since then, Bente Torjusen has seen the Gallery through considerable changes and development. In 1988 the education program expanded to include artists and audiences of all ages.
In 1990, after 16 years at three different locations in Hanover, the Gallery made plans to move once again, this time to Lebanon. The Dartmouth Bookstore, which had been a most supportive landlord, needed to expand their text book department, and AVA needed to look for a new home. AVA’s move to 11 Bank Street was a fortuitous one. The new landlord, Bank Street Properties (now Northern Equities) undertook extensive renovations. Beautiful hardwood floors and 13 foot high ceilings are characteristics which would contribute much to the ambiance of a magnificent gallery space. This new location also provided AVA with ample teaching space, a vast improvement from the earlier years, when the classes were held in the actual gallery space. In addition, AVA soon became the nucleus for creative activity in a building that, during a relatively short period, had become home to a dozen individual artist’s studios. The proximity of these studios to the gallery and teaching studios make AVA a truly alive, integrated visual arts community. An openness of space and mind are qualities that make AVA accessible to all individuals, not only in a physical sense, but also in a psychological one; AVA’s scholarship program and close collaboration with social services organizations have helped make audiences not commonly associated with art galleries feel just at home at AVA as the “regulars.”
AVA’s main programs fall into two categories: exhibitions and art classes. The exhibitions range from shows by carefully selected local and regional artists to group exhibitions, including community related exhibitions such as presentations of works by students from local schools.
The art classes range from specialized courses for the professional artist to basic beginners courses. The children’s program offers year-round opportunities through after-school programs, special vacation programs and summer art-camps, as well as classes for pre-schoolers and home-schoolers. Visits to the gallery and to artists’ studios afford the children the opportunity to see and experience professional artists at work.
Since AVA’s move from Hanover to Lebanon, the organization has seen a steady increase in the number of artists, students and general visitors who have traveled considerable distances to participate in or attend our programs. Last year, AVA presented 22 exhibitions, and offered 120 classes and workshops. Approximately 200 artists participated in our exhibitions, and 1075 students enrolled in our classes, 480 of whom were children and teens. 42 scholarships were awarded.
Throughout these 30 years AVA has received consistent support from the community, ranging from financial contributions to volunteer hours. Volunteers contribute more than 3000 hours per year to AVA. This involvement is really a testament to what many see as AVA’s intrinsic value to surrounding communities. AVA continues to successfully offer opportunities for artists in the region and to increase public awareness of the importance of the visual arts.