Farewell Post by Clay Art Center’s First Community Arts Director

Hello and Goodbye: Two Sides of the Same Coin

I have always avoided saying goodbye when possible. The idea of loss and grieving is one I think most people are uncomfortable with. But as I leave Clay Art Center bound for Philadelphia I have the truly joyful task of introducing Kelly O’Sullivan the NEW Community Arts Manager.

In 2011 I was lucky to meet and hire a bright new teacher who has grown so radically in the last five years that she is a force to be reckoned with. Kelly O’Sullivan, who has joined CAC’s staff as our new Community Arts Manager, is a masterful teacher and sensitive artist and I can leave confident that she won’t just continue with what I have done in the community arts programs, but she will achieve so much more and offer so many more people the same solace.

Kelly is by no means a new face to CAC and her many talents can be seen through her artistic journey as a ceramics major at SUNY New Paltz to her Community Arts Fellowship here at Clay Art Center and now with her recent masters degree from Pratt Institute in Creative Arts Therapy. I sat down with Kelly to talk about the transition and share how this journey has shaped her experiences.

“Being the Community Arts Fellow here allowed me to explore what I had just discovered in grad school and challenge myself, to push my skills, and gain confidence in my vision.”

“My favorite experience was getting to know the community of other residents and CAC artists and build real connections with them. And of course, as a community arts teaching artist, I loved working in Port Chester Public Schools, it really felt like you were making a difference no matter how hard the circumstances or the environment. I thought working with the elementary students here was amazing, but it was always difficult seeing how much they miss out on while other kids across Westchester have more open access to the arts.”

“ I really hope to grow my artistic practice here at CAC in the coming years which involves translucent porcelain and creating waste molds. There is an organic process and a flow to my work that has a strong connection with nature.  I also look forward to meeting new teachers and beginning to expand the Clay as Therapy programs at Clay Art Center. I think there is such a benefit to the programs that are more than educational, they enrich the soul, and that is what brings us all to clay to begin with.”

And so I am signing off after 8 years at Clay Art Center. While technically this is a goodbye, I really feel like I am leaving so much of myself here at CAC. As the Community Arts Director I had the incredible opportunity to meet thousands of individuals– young and old – whose lives were forever changed by the humble material we call clay.This world would be so different without a place like Clay Art Center and it’s a group of the most passionate, dedicated and kind people I have ever met who have committed their lives to teaching others. When I first started at Clay Art Center eight years ago I would walk into a school and hear a chorus of “Clay Lady, Clay Lady” following me into the classroom. I remember being so embarrassed when the local paper published an article with my picture and the big inscription “The Clay Lady” scrawled across the top. But now, so many students later, I wear it like a badge. It is my courage when I try something new; it is my pride when someone admires our work or compliments a mosaic; and it is something I will carry though my life as proof that I was part of this community; that we were friends, comrades, and shared our grief, joy and creativity together.

Clay Art Center has been the place I go not just to work, but to be free from loneliness, despair, and the stresses of life and I will never forget it. I hope you will all join me in looking at our stellar community arts programs. There really isn’t anything like them on the east coast!  In so many ways you all have helped to make these programs possible. I am leaving with a full heart, and will be back often to see how community arts is flourishing. If you want to take a next personal step to help sustain and support the development of our community arts programs, I encourage you to make a donation, of any size, to keep clay in the hands of those who NEED it most.  A gift from you to our community arts programs would be such a gift to me!

Thanks for all the great years and though I won’t be seeing you in the studio I know you will help keep the creativity alive!


Ariel Edwards