Business is booming at Clay Art Center in Port Chester.
“Things are hopping here seven days per week,” said Leigh Taylor Mickelson, executive director of the art center.
Mickelson said that in each of the past two years, earned revenue at the nonprofit art center has increased 15 percent.
“I think because so many people are looking for that thing that is a bit of an escape from all the digital media and political unrest,” she said of the increase in business. “I think people are seeking to find some kind of mindfulness in their life, and a place where they can connect with others, use their hands, unplug.”
“We say that clay is the new yoga.”
Clay is also perfect for those looking for a creative outlet, Mickelson said, because “you’re literally making something out of nothing, out of dirt.”
“There’s something powerful about that and I think that resonates with people,” she said. “The moment you touch it, it’s yours. It has your fingerprint.”
The center at 40 Beech St. offers one-time and drop-in classes, including a weekly “Cladies Night” where visitors are invited to bring friends or significant others, along with their alcoholic beverage of choices.
“It’s a way to get people in here and experience clay the first time,” she said. “Our hope is people will become intrigued and see the medium as something they want to get more familiar with.”
For those looking to further their skills, series of small classes are held throughout the year, from 5- to 9-week classes for beginners to 13- or 14-week classes for more advanced students.
“What I see normally happen is friendships develop over time here,” Mickelson said. “We have a big return rate, probably over 75 percent. They tend to take the same classes again and again with the same people.”
Those classes are filled with a range of students, from those with art backgrounds to complete novices.
For many of the upper and advanced level classes, Mickelson said, “their classes are like family.”
“It’s very much a community setting.”
The center offers much more than adult classes, though. On a recent visit, a group of students were huddled around a rectangular table, learning to craft mugs or cups and incorporating magical elements, from elf ears to unicorn horns. Those students were part of the center’s summer camp program, which offers classes for children aged 6 to 17 from July through August.
A gallery space and store are in a building adjacent to the workroom, featuring items created by a revolving series of artists. Symposiums, studio visits and workshops are also held throughout the year. The 11,000-square-foot facility is also home to workspace for more than 50 working artists.
Away from the Port Chester building, the center is involved in a number of offsite projects, from after-school programs to working with aging adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Clay is one of those mediums that is used a lot in art therapy,” she said. “It’s inherently a medium that draws you in that no other medium does.”
Clay Art Center was founded in 1957 by Katherine Choy and Henry Okamoto. Since that time, though the center celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, Michelson said there are many who still don’t know the art center exists.
“I think part of it is the fact that we’ve been this hidden gem in Westchester for a long time,” she said. “People are starting to find us and see us as this place where you can come and have an experience.”