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Studio 550 Art Center Builds Community Through Creativity

By Rebecca Gaunt

Studio 550 Art Center is place for residents of Manchester and across the state to explore their inner artist and connect with others. It welcomes experienced artists looking for a workspace and hosts classes and workshops for beginners.

Owner Monica Leap opened the center because she wanted to build relationships and a sense of community. "As a potter, working solely as a studio potter felt self-serving and isolated - and opening a community art center seemed the logical next step to combine the craft I love with the lifestyle and community I wanted to be a part of," Leap says. "When you are a student here, you are like family. With a background in city planning/downtown development, I also love that we can be part of making Manchester a more interesting place to be."

The classes offer students opportunities to work with a variety of media -- clay, stained glass, acrylics and watercolor. There is even a movement studio for martial arts, salsa, African drumming and Scottish fiddle lessons. The center also organizes special events. Every summer they hide 100 clay statues around the downtown area. If you find one, you get to keep it and claim prizes at local businesses. The annual Handmade Holiday Market is a chance for local craftspeople to display their work, and another event allows high school students to participate in clay challenges. On Pi Day, March 14, 2015, Studio 550 organized a Pie Day competition for local bakeries.

Couples can sign up for Date Night on Friday or Saturday evenings. Materials, tools and instruction are included in the cost of the of the pottery session, and attendees can keep their own pieces created on the wheel. Picture the iconic scene from Ghost, but with all your clothes on and each at your own pottery wheel.

The center even operates a mobile studio that will come to birthday parties, ladies' nights and any other event where people are ready to get their hands dirty. The studio itself can also be booked for birthday parties and other social events!

"Learning to be comfortable being creative has spillover benefits in work and in quality of life. It's funny. When you ask a group of adults if they consider themselves "creative," most don't think they are," Leap says. "Becoming comfortable creating art and being creative can help build self confidence. It is also important to have a space or an activity where your mind can be quiet."

Studio 550 Art Center also has a tea room with a large selection of loose leaf teas from MEM Tea Imports and A&E Cafe & Roastery. Leap conducted a number of taste tests before selecting these two purveyors. The pastries come from J.L. Sweets and Sunshine Scoops & Bakery. Customers can sign up for the tea of the month club and if you try each of the 24 flavors within six months you can join the mug club; a studio potter will create a personalized mug for you that can go home or stay at the studio. When you use the mug at the studio, you receive a discount on subsequent tea orders. The center also accepts reservations for tea parties and tastings.

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About The Author

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a...

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