Historic Church Building Hosts Variety of Art Genres
By Gina Gallucci-White and Photography by Turner Photography Studio
On the first and third Wednesdays of every month you will find Joe Keyes hosting an improv jazz jam session in the converted church building that serves as the Frederick Arts Council’s Art Center. Keyes is the leader and has between 15 to 20 musicians join him. They include members of his band The Late Bloomers and musicians he has worked with in the past, playing drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and horns.
The musical gatherings, part of the center’s After Hours program, are free and have been offered since November. “When a lot of musicians come there, they don’t ask, ‘Hey do you know this song? Do you guys know that song?’” he says. “Instead of doing that, we just get a groove going.”
On some nights it is jazz, another night it might be a rock band, meditative dance or perhaps a gallery show of visual arts. To say the After Hours program offers a broad variety of programs is an understatement.
Keyes first discovered the Arts Council thanks to one of his musical influences, jazz trombonist and vocalist Joseph Bowie. When Bowie’s brother, renowned jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, died, Keyes discovered the family was from Frederick. So, Keyes came here for the unveiling of a mural in honor of Lester Bowie in 2020.
“Frederick has had this calling for me and they embraced me and they trusted me,” Keyes says. “They understood me.” He played several times at Sky Stage and mentioned to FAC that he would like to do a jazz jam session. They gave him the green light to start one at the Art Center.
“They are very supportive there of the underground artists,” he says of the Art Center. “… It is becoming a haven for artistic people and people who do different kinds of art. They are not a commercial kind of a place. They support the underdog, so to speak. [For] some people who are truly seeking expression, it is a good place to build a foundation. It is a good place to build a fan base because most places you go you already gotta have something before they let you in. You’ve got to have a following, you’ve gotta have this, you’ve gotta have that. You’ve gotta be almost there already. This place gives you a place to build a foundation.”
Located at 5 E. 2nd St., the building dates back to 1871. The Arts Council bought the building in 2019 and completed some moderate renovations. “We tried to preserve as much of the older architectural features as we could,” says Emily Holland, the organization’s public art program manager. In what would become the second-floor gallery space, a drop ceiling covered the choir loft and other architectural highlights were not showcased. The nonprofit sought to bring the building back to its roots so the historical character of the church could shine again.
“I think [the Art Center] is on brand or in character for Frederick,” Holland says. “We are a very dynamic and vibrant community with a lot of exciting new and contemporary things going on. As a community, I think one thing we do really well is we blend our history with our present and I think it adds a level of texture and real dimension to the experience of our art exhibits and our events.”
Opened in late 2019 and early 2020, the Art Center had to pause along with the rest of the world during the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Last year, the nonprofit was able to increase the events and activities at the building and serve as another much-needed arts space besides their outdoor venue Sky Stage.
The first floor is a home to resident organizations as well as the Arts Council’s shop and rotating exhibitions of local artists and arts organizations. A seasonal gallery space is the focus of the second floor, showcasing exhibitions, public art initiatives, concerts and events. The third floor is home to the creative lab, which is a free space for artists to gather and work on pieces or brainstorm new ideas. Some supplies are available, including easels, tables, color pencils and markers.
Most of the programs, events and shows at the Art Center have free admission and the nonprofit staff aims to offer the venue at an affordable rate for member artists and organizations. Community groups will often reach out, needing a space for an event or a place to rehearse. Holland hopes guests at the center enjoy the experience but also find inspiration to fuel their own creativity.
Falling Squares, a local video production company, organizes a movie night the first Friday of every month, featuring local and regional filmmakers. Falling Squares also hosts Bijou, a curated movie event on the second, third and fourth Tuesdays of the month. The company’s Jordan Holt notes the space is in an ideal location as folks may come in specifically for an event or meander in on a whim while walking around Downtown Frederick.
Holt says guests might attend one event at the Art Center and then learn about many more happening at the venue. “There is so much going on that the Frederick Arts Council is doing and I admire being a part of that community,” he says.
Laura Sherwood leads a meditative dance class every Monday evening as well as a 12-week healing with the arts class on Wednesdays. “It is a great community space that has so much potential for the arts and events,” she says. “The more people that become aware that the programs are there and the space is available [the better].”
The Art Center is also responding to a community need.
“Frederick just does not have a lot of performing space,” says Christine Mosere, director of the Endangered Species Theatre Project, the resident organization at the center. “I always say it is why you don’t see a lot of young people out of college starting theater companies here. Most of the places I have lived you just see that, and some of them stay and some of them fold and some of them are just there for a year, but you have a whole lot of that in small cities and big cities all over. But there are not really a lot of places to perform” in Frederick.
When Mosere started Endangered Species, she reached out to the Arts Council about performing at Sky Stage in 2018. “They are very generous to artists and arts organizations because they are an arts council,” she says. “They let us go in when we had practically nothing and just spilt the [ticket sales at the] door and they let us grow with them. … I really know that we would not be where we are today if the Arts Council didn’t exist.”
She adds, “To be able to rehearse in that space [at the Art Center], it has just been a gift,” she says. “… It made a very big difference for us.”