Art Notes: AVA Gallery pares back expenses, trimming three jobs

  • "Recent Paintings and Drawings," by Lyme artist Carl Mehrbach is on view at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon through June 14. Mehrbach will talk about his work at 5:30 on Thursday, May 16, in the gallery. (Courtesy AVA Gallery)

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

AVA Gallery and Art Center experienced three decades of growth under longtime Executive Director Bente Torjusen.

But even as it moved from Hanover to the former H.W. Carter and Sons building in Lebanon, then purchased and renovated the building, the organization that began life as the Alliance for the Visual Arts was a lean, focused nonprofit, with a small staff, active donors and volunteers and a tight budget.

Upon Torjusen’s retirement from AVA, in late 2016, AVA seemed poised for a new round of growth, with a new sculptural studies building, named for Torjusen, nearing completion, and a new leader in Paul N. “Trip” Anderson, a Grantham resident who had been working with arts and cultural organizations in New England for many years.

But by the start of this year, it was evident that AVA had grown too quickly and taken on too many significant changes for the organization to sustain, the art center’s interim director and board chairman said in an interview Tuesday.

“There was a plan for funding those changes,” said Andrew Garthwaite, AVA’s board chairman. “It sort of became clear that there was too much going on at once.”

AVA and Anderson parted ways in February. AVA’s interim director, Hilde Ojibway, and Torjusen, who’s acting as a consultant, announced last week that the art center had cut its expenses, including three staff positions, and is raising donations to fill a significant gap in its budget.

Higher spending was to be offset by increases in revenue, but income did not keep pace. In particular, “expectations for increased revenue through grants were very ambitious,” Ojibway said.

The staff cuts took effect this week, eliminating full-time positions overseeing marketing and outreach, and a part-time development position.

“That was the most difficult thing, because the people are so good,” Ojibway said.

The cuts bring the staff structure back to the model AVA had in place when Torjusen departed, with one exception: The recently created position for a sculptural studies and facilities manager will remain in place, a recognition that AVA’s newest building needs oversight. The work of the three employees whose jobs were cut will be done by remaining staff and volunteers.

The spending cuts and fundraising were necessary to close what would have been a $300,000 shortfall in AVA’s current fiscal year, which ends on Aug. 31. For larger nonprofits, that’s couch-cushion money, but AVA’s spending for the current fiscal year is $914,000, and the budget approved for 2020 is leaner still, at $844,000, Ojibway said.

“With the course corrected, we are going to be in the black,” she said.

Torjusen’s role has been to raise money, and AVA has brought in $350,000 toward a goal of $450,000 for its “Spring Into Summer” campaign, conceived earlier this year to set the organization up for a new leader. The donations are intended to close the budget gap and pay for capital projects, including a long-planned members’ gallery that would exhibit work by AVA’s artist-members. The influx of donations also will provide a buffer for the coming year.

Both in a news release and in Tuesday’s interview, AVA leaders stressed the importance of community and “the AVA family,” the cadre of artists, students, art-lovers and donors that Torjusen was so adept at connecting to the institution and one another.

“Hopefully, the next executive director will have that ability to weave those webs among people,” in addition to art expertise, Ojibway said.

AVA’s board is looking for a leader with close ties to the community and knowledge of AVA and its programs. The new director also will be charged with expanding AVA’s offerings and its role in the community, but that growth will be more gradual, as AVA learns how to use its $2.2 million sculptural studies building, members’ gallery and other new features.

The art center’s leadership recognized that it sought to grow too fast, and that it was doing so after a complete staff turnover in 2016 and 2017. In addition to Torjusen, AVA’s education and gallery managers departed around the same time.

“Any organization, (if) you do those things all at once, it’s stressful,” Ojibway said.

The aim is to have a new director on board by Sept. 1, and sooner, if possible.

AVA Gallery also opened three new exhibitions last week: “Restless,” ceramics by Newbury, N.H., artist David Ernster; “Rhythmic Compositions,” recent work by Waitsfield, Vt., sculptor John Matusz; and “Recent Paintings and Drawings” by Lyme’s Carl Mehrbach.

The shows are on view through June 14. Merhbach will talk about his work in the gallery at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Of note

Towle Hill Studio, Corinth. On view only on Saturday and Sunday is a show of photographs by Kathy Davidow, of Bradford, Vt., and encaustic paintings by Piermont artist Stephanie Gordon.

The Vermont Dance Alliance performs a site specific work at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden. The performance is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception and a Q&A with the dancers.

Openings and receptions

The Vermont Pastel Society opens its Annual Juried Exhibition with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday at the White River Craft Center in Randolph. The exhibit includes 25 pastel paintings by 18 artists selected from more than 90 entries. Through July 7.

Cider Hill Gardens and Gallery in Windsor is open for the season and features outdoor sculpture by William Ballantyne and paintings in egg tempera and gold leaf by gallery co-owner Gary Milek. A reception is planned for 3 to 6 p.m., on Saturday.


Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, Meriden. “Duckworth XXXIII — Abstraction and the Infinite Plane,” the museum’s 33rd and penultimate exhibition of Aidron Duckworth’s work, through July 21; and “An Ocean of Galaxies,” recent work by New York city artist Tara Sabharwal, through June 2.

Betty Grant Gallery, Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Just People,” paintings by Liliana Paradiso. Through June.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” photographs by Cathy Cone, of East Topsham, Vt., and “Pilgrimage,” mixed media paintings by Rochester artist Jason Horwitz. Through June 23.

Center for the Arts, New London. The New London Inn hosts a group photography show; Blue Loon Bakery shows watercolors by Mary Belecz and Bar Harbor Bank and Trust on Main Street shows work by Kearsarge Middle and High School students. Through July 31.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Eye-catching,” the annual Area Artists Exhibition, is on view through June 15.

Chelsea Public Library. “Revered Vermont Libraries,” drawings in Prismacolor pencil by Woodstock artist Gary Barron. Through June 30.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. Pastels by former Upper Valley resident Phyllis Orem. Through June 1.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. Spring exhibitions include work by painter Collin Leech; photographers Joan Crimlisk and John Lehet; watercolorists Nick Mayer and Marion Blodgett; multi-media artist Stacy Harshman; and the hospital’s employees and volunteers.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading,Vt. “Made in Vermont,” works by Vermont artists; exhibitions by Richard Artschwager and the super-realist artist Malcolm Morley. On the grounds: “English Sculptors in New England.” Admission is $10, except on the first Friday of every month, when visitors get in free from 5 to 8 p.m.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. Artwork by students at Hanover Street School. Through May.

Long River Gallery, White River Junction. “Littles,” 72 small paintings by Amy Hook-Therrien, of leaves on the forest floor.

Main Street Museum, White River Junction. “Jack Rowell, Cultural Documentarian: Portraits of Vermont People and Other Wildlife.”

Philip Read Memorial Library, Plainfield. “Ink Slingers,” an exhibition of cartoon drawings from the collection of New Yorker cartoonist, and Cornish resident, Harry Bliss. Through June.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. “Flower Portraits,” Claremont artist Sue Lawrence’s oil paintings of floral blossoms.

Steven Thomas Inc. Fine Arts & Antiques, White River Junction. Work by Upper Valley “vintage” artists, such as Alice Standish Buell, John Semple, Horace Brown, Neil Drevitson and Robert Caulfield.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Landscapes,” oil paintings by Thetford artist Jean Gerber, through June 17. A reception is planned for 2 to 4 p.m. on June 2.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio opens “You Are the Music,” prints by Hartford artist Joan Morris.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. Paintings and fanciful Vermont tourism posters by Burlington painter Kevin Ruelle. Through June 26.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.


The Bente Torjusen West Sculptural Studies Building at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon cost $2.2 million. In addition, the performance by the Vermont Dance Alliance at the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden is scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The construction cost for the AVA project and the time of the dance performance were incorrect in an earlier version of this column.