Great article about the James and its role in the South Shore arts community in the Cape & Plymouth Business Magazine November issue by Helen Graves.
capeplymouthbusiness.com | November 2012 | Cape & Plymouth Business
James Library lends quality, intimacy to South Shore arts scene By Helen Graves Walk into the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell on any given afternoon, and there are bound to be people checking out books or admiring artwork, children reading and a piano or two playing.
Go on a weekend, and there could be a monthly art opening reception, a one-man literary show, a well-attended chamber music performance or a special family event.
Every day of the week, there are people who love the James and who devote their time and energy to promoting the arts locally as well as preserving the three-story Victorian-era building.
“There’s life going on there from the moment the James opens until it closes,” says Larry Wolfe, who lives across the street and has volunteered as music advisor since the James was brought back to life as a community arts center 22 years ago.
Today, the James draws people from all over as audience and participant. This month it showcases art by Patricia Bianco, classical piano with the Calyx Piano Trio and custom-made silhouettes on the 10th annual Silhouette Day.
Upcoming events include the annual Holiday Marketplace, renowned pianist performances, a Vincent van Gogh one-man show, a Valentine’s dessert tasting, a Stone Soup children’s program and a presentation on the history of cocktails.
On a weekly basis, the James is a free lending library, an art gallery, a space for music and voice lessons, and a gathering place for community organizations.
There is so much going on, in fact, that the 1,000 Great Places Commission has named the James to its 1,000 top places to visit in Massachusetts list.
Whatâ€™s most amazing about the James, however, is the fact that there are only two paid parttimers on staff, along with a very, very part-time custodian and bookkeeper. Caroline Chapin has been the director for the past 12 years. A librarian with a music background, she calls her position â€œan arts administration job with a library at its core.â€
“Our forte is working on a dime and stretching that dollar,” Chapin says. “Our niche in the South Shore arts community is bringing high-quality programming to a very intimate space.”
The building is owned by First Parish Church of Norwell, but the James Library is its own, separately run nonprofit. Working with a budget of under $75,000, Chapin relies heavily on community support to staff, maintain and operate the building and fund programs.
“Half of our revenue comes from community donations, individuals and local businesses who recognize the value of supporting the arts locally,” she says. The other half comes from ticket revenue, rental income, art sale commissions and grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council via the Norwell Cultural Council.
Special events, an annual appeal letter, a phone-a-thon and outreach to the business community comprise fundraising at the James.
“Because we’re so small, when we say that your donation supports our operation, we really mean it,” says Chapin. “When someone sponsors an event, that donation directly pays for the performer or the cost of running the program. Businesses know that their money is going to be used effectively, that there is no room for waste.”
To maximize the potential of every penny, Chapin says, “We have turned every square inch of this building into space that, keeping within our mission, produces revenue.”
All three floors house books for the library, although the main library and children’s rooms are on the first floor. The lower level has been renovated into a bright, airy art gallery. The top floor is open to allow for events, meetings and performances.
The 1874 building first housed First Parish’s library and was home to Norwell’s public library until 1973. Always serving as a community gathering place, the James early on hosted groups such as the Ladies Sewing Circle and the Young People’s Christian Union.
The architecture of the building, too, has long been appreciated. According to research noted on the James’ website, the Italianate design included “Queen Anne style windows, which had not been seen in such novel appearance anywhere in the district.”
By 1990, the James was in disrepair but local residents still deemed it a treasure worthy of restoring to its original stature. The restoration was led by Doug Perry, who put his union organizing talents to work in drawing in others. Perry recently passed away, and this month’s chamber performance is dedicated to him.
“When Doug realized that the upstairs Victorian Room was the perfect ‘chamber’ for chamber music,” relates Wolfe, who plays bass for the Boston Symphony Orchestra,”he walked across the street to my house and asked if I’d become involved.”
Wolfe credits Perry with coming up with original ideas to involve the community and support the fledgling arts center, including the choosing of the color combination when the exterior of the James needed painting.
Nancy Colella, a board member then, researched the history of the building and came up with three different color schemes. “I painted miniature sections of windows, clapboards and trim and presented them to the public for voting,” she says. “The mustard, maroon and dark green scheme that adorns the building today was the one that won.”
Volunteers from the beginning have been a mainstay of the James’ success. Colella, for example, remained involved with the James Library as gallery director for nine years. “I fell in love with the place the first time I walked inside,” she says. “It brought back so many memories of hours spent in the local library as a child.”
Wolfe, who has been with the BSO for 43 years, has performed at the James and enlists his colleagues and other world-class musicians to play here as well.
The Victorian Room presents a cozy venue, holding up to 90 in the audience. The Steinway piano, “thanks to a very picturesque afternoon with a crane taking it to the second floor,” Wolfe relates, “is loved by everyone who plays it and hears it.”
“It’s a room with good acoustics, a room that has the right combination of reflecting, resonating and absorbing,” Wolfe says. “Performers and audiences alike enjoy the close proximity that allows for conversation, stories and commentary in between pieces,” he points out.
“The concerts are breathtaking,” says Geoff Gordon, who has been involved with the James for as long as I can remember. “I love the fact that they bring such wonderful art and worldclass music to Norwell Center. I love the concept: It’s very intimate, you’re in a small venue and you get people who are at the top of their game.”
Along with helping connect businesses to the James, Gordon is also a financial supporter through corporate sponsorships on behalf of Andrew G. Gordon Insurance. “Our corporate budget is directed toward the arts and education. The James is a natural in the arts category,” he says.
Liz McCarron, in her second two-year term on the nine-member board, is a business sponsor as a realtor with Caldwell Banker. The business value, she believes, comes from being connected to this community landmark. Like everyone involved with the James, she feels a protective ownership in preserving the library and arts center for years to come.
“That’s my job,” she says, “to spread the word that everyone who enjoys the James can be giving back by donating and by attending the art gallery, the music lessons, the events and the performances that help the James continue to be an attraction to the center of town.”
The James Library and Center for the Arts, located at 24 West St. in Norwell Center, is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 12 to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (closed Saturdays during July and August.) For more information, go to jameslibrary. org, e-mail email@example.com or call (781) 659-7100.
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