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Art Center Unveiled 

The first artist enclave in Manchester opens to show its work.

The first of the monthly, all-media juried shows, gives a glimpse into the variety of visions and skill levels of the artists housed within the art center. This month, printmaker and professor David Freed served as juror and awarded prizes for the best works. He isn’t able to be here, but co-owner Glenda Kotchish, wearing a type of crocheted veil, and co-owner Paula Demmert, in a simple black dress, present the awards and relay Freed’s comments to the winners.

A gritty interpretation of “Construction on Lombardy” won first place because Freed liked the way the painting reflected the lines of the Manchester area. The second-place painting of a boy in a man’s white shirt won because Freed could tell the artist knew the subject well — it was the artist’s son. And the third-place winner wrote a poem to accompany her paintings.

After the brief presentation the whole center is opened for browsing, drinking, shopping or socializing. The hallways and galleries fill with people — old, young, black, white, students, professionals. The former Westvaco building’s brighly colored cinder block walls look more like an elementary school than a former paper company. Some artists hang works outside their studio, other walls can be rented for the month. Muralist Ed Trask’s moody, oversized portraits give vitality and credibility to walls in the stairwell and other free spaces. The building is like a maze: Turn right and the hallway dead-ends, go straight and it leads to a rooftop deck where the sun’s deep orange is sliding down the high-rises less than a mile away.

Stop into the studios and some artists want to talk, offering munchies and wine, while other artists sit and read, or are nowhere to be found. One candlelighted and drapery-enclosed studio is used for massage therapy — $1 for a minute, all proceeds to be be donated to charity. Another studio displays stools covered in maps. There are studios that look like galleries, with no evidence of the work behind the art — just finished work proudly hung with price tags. Then there are studios that reflect the process but show few finished products; these doors are open nonetheless.

In the large Skylight Gallery, an industrial-looking room with exposed pipes and a cement floor, people gather to listen to Detroit Transit Railroad. (The band also rents a studio for practice sessions.) More food, white Christmas lights and chairs welcome people to gather and watch the belly dancers perform. At just after 9 p.m., the crowd is still milling or walking around. It’s clear that a new center for art and creativity has been born, and it’s a welcoming and excited one. S

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