HARVARD -- Wouldn't it be great if there was one place that housed a variety of arts and cultural experiences for both the young and old? A place one could go to take yoga, dance and art classes, or maybe a Mendiani drum class? Participate in a poetry reading? Attend an Irish pop-up pub or a jazz night?
This is exactly what's going on in that charming brick building in Harvard's town center. First it was affectionately called "The Old Library," then in 2010 "The Pilot Project," and now the affirmative "Center on the Common." The Pilot Project was formed to demonstrate the need for an artistic and cultural presence in the town center, and through the efforts of many local volunteers, the project succeeded in bringing several events to Harvard.
"The Center on the Common is a terrific vehicle to house events and programs that teach, enrich and just simply entertain. And to share that with others can only lead to a tighter community," said Paige O'Brien, volunteer rental relations, Center on the Common. "It's the kind of place that has a clubhouse feel, but the amount of talent and creativity that filters through the building -- be it in the form of art, music, dance or writings -- is inimitable."
The first event that really sparked community interest and helped set the framework for the Center on the Common was an event called Art Soup in the spring of 2011, the brainchild of Harvard Selectman Tim Clark. Art Soup was a gathering of locals who each had a creative passion to share, whether it was art, music or food.
"The Art Soup recipe is simple: bringing together people with a common interest," said Clark. "It's a chance for people to define the space around them, that's what makes it memorable."
The COTC evolved out of the Pilot Project and has expanded on this successful concept, offering over a dozen arts and cultural experiences each week, ranging from yoga and jazz to knitting and drumming.
"The most exciting thing about this space is that each event transforms the building," said Rachel Manly, COTC director. The center opened on Oct. 1, 2012, and Manly has been on board since December, meeting with artisans about exhibiting their works and helping locals transform the Center for their own events or workshops. Under her direction, the COTC is designing a new logo and website as well as a graphical map of the building. Manly is a graduate of Maine College of Art and also teaches an after-school art program at the center.
Most of the art shows are in the gallery, the main attraction room. Manly is about to hang the March exhibit, which will feature the works of the COTC Executive Director Robert Hubert. His project, "The Towners: Harvard Portrait Project," will be on exhibit for the month of March in the gallery, featuring 50 portraits of people who live and work in Harvard, taken with an 8-by-10 Century Studio Camera. The artist's reception is on March 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. In April, the abstract landscape paintings of Fran Busse of Busse Studios in West Concord, will be on display in the COTC gallery in her "Voyage" exhibit running April 7 through 29. The artist reception for Voyage is on April 7 from 2 to 4 p.m.
"We try to display traditional old town artwork as well as have a flow of contemporary art at the Center," Manly explained. "Unless you drive into the city, you would not get this type of art exposure." Manly strives to keep a balance between traditional and contemporary art to give everyone a platform to demonstrate their work.
Another huge draw for the COTC is the Durga Studio, run by Jen Sundeen. She teaches prana flow yoga, teen goddess yoga, and gentle yoga classes for students of all levels that involve breath work and restful meditations. Sundeen is also organizing a mega event, what she calls "a gathering of the tribes, a human be-in." This event originally occurred in Harvard over a century and a half ago, when a group of free thinkers led by Amos Bronson Alcott gathered to create Utopia. On Saturday, March 2, it will happen once again in Harvard: www.thedurgastudio.com/wp/news.
The First Friday Jazz series occurs on the first Friday of every month. The inaugural concert will be on Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m., featuring Brazilian jazz ensemble the Fernando Holz Band. This is an exciting fundraising event for the Center and dinner and a Brazilian dessert will be prepared by Harvard's own Chef Paul. Tickets are $35 per person and may be purchased online at www.fernandoholz.eventbrite.com.
Chef Paul's Cider Panel is a highly coveted upcoming event on March 9 that features a lecture on cider-related topics, including characteristics of different yeasts on cider blends, cider styles and creating fruit and berry ciders. Tickets for the Cider Panel may be purchased online at chefpaulcider.eventbrite.com.
On Friday nights, one can learn how to play the traditional West African rhythm Mendiani on a djembe with drum instructor Moussa Traore. There is also an opportunity for kids ages 10 to 13 to experience the West African culture on Monday afternoons by participating in an African dance class led by Alice Heller. In this class, students will learn about the West African culture by drumming, singing and dancing in community with one another.
Creative dance and yoga for special needs is a wonderful opportunity for children with varying special needs who are 8 years of age or older. Students discover new ways to move to music from around the world while developing basic motor and locomotive skills. The class is held on Wednesday evenings through the end of May and class size is limited.
The Artist Loft at the COTC is locally renowned for its art lessons. Manly runs the art and cloth studio. Manly has a BFA in fine arts and teaches art and cloth classes as an after-school arts program to elementary-, middle- and high school-age students. Her students pursue projects in 2-D arts, 3-D arts and cloth. The high school art class is more specialized to the students and provides them with an opportunity to exhibit their art as well as receive guidance on how to develop their art school portfolios.
"On a personal level, this is the town my mother and grandparents grew up in," said Manly. "It was not in my grand master plan to come back; however, things fell into place and it feels special to be back in town." Manly's mother is Sharon Correnty, who is the middle school art teacher at the Bromfield School.
Internationally-acclaimed watercolorist and muralist Bruce Davidson gives painting and drawing lessons on Thursday nights. Davidson is a visiting artist at the Bromfield School Art Club. He received formal training at the Art Institute of Boston studying illustration and design, and then continued his training at the Decordova Museum School. Davidson led a watercolor expedition to Argeles-sur-Mer, France, in the summer of 2010. His class meets on Thursday evenings and no experience is necessary to participate.
TRUEcolors is an art class taught by Greta Minervi on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Students in Minervi's class will use everyday objects as art materials, recycling and transforming them into multidimensional pieces of art. Minervi studied at the Boston Museum School and the Massachusetts College of Art. Previously she lived in Munich, Germany, where she was an art director for a magazine.
The best way to keep tabs on what is coming up at the COTCS is to check out its calendar of events at: centeronthecommon.org.
The Center on the Common is a nonprofit 501c3 organization whose mission is to foster cultural, artistic and educational development for community engagement. Those interested in donating to the COC or renting space to teach a class or hold an event may contact Manly at email@example.com.