12/6/2012 - Ever since Monica Leap raised the Studio 550 sign on Elm Street, passersby have been stopping by the brick building to ask when the studio will open and what it’s all about.
Well, it’s finally happening. After months of delays and anticipation, Leap’s dream is coming true — Studio 550 opens its doors to the public on Saturday, Dec. 15, with an open house and series of demonstrations.
The studio aims to be a lot things, among them an art gallery and a place to take art classes, dance classes, fire spinning classes and martial arts classes. Ultimately, Leap wants it to be a place to learn and create and relax. She hopes to draw artists and non-artists to this community space, to make art less of a thing you see and more of a thing you do.
“What I’ve noticed around Manchester [is that] much of the time, art is a spectator sport. But I consider art something to experience,” she said. Creativity is everywhere, and in order to really appreciate art, you need to be in the midst of it, getting your hands muddy from a pottery wheel or dyed in rainbow colors from painting.
Studio 550 has been nearly two years in the making, but creating this arts center has been a dream of Leap’s since she studied art at Syracuse University. She earned her master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina, and she was on the verge of accepting a Fulbright fellowship in Cambodia when she found out about this open space in Manchester. It was the perfect location (across from the Verizon Wireless Arena) and perfect size (two large classrooms, one large art movement space, tons of room for studio space), and really, the perfect time to do it. So she turned down the coveted fellowship and went to work.
The opening was pushed back countless times due to contracting issues, until this summer, when Leap took matters into her own hands and became the contracting manager herself. She was working full time at the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission while she tinkered with the final details.
The studio’s coming to fruition is especially sweet to Leap because of what she hopes it will bring to the community. She grew up in Nashua as the daughter of two Cambodian immigrants who left their war-stricken country in the late 1970s for a better life. She wants to use her talent to build communities that people will want to stay in.
The old brick building on Elm Street is also a special place for her and her family. Her parents, owners of Lucky Super Market in Somersworth, began their Asian food market business in the same space that she’s turning into an art center. At the time, it was called Asian Market Center, she says as she points to the “AMC” letters that still adorn the brick building front.
The mission is to engage, nurture and sustain artists of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Leap hopes more people will want to become involved once Studio 550 gets started. “That’s the whole idea in a community arts center: it only works when all of these other people get involved,” she said.
It’s important, she said, because creativity goes beyond your basic art and pottery classes.
“When you ask most people if they consider themselves creative, they usually shy away from this word,” she said. “But most people are creative. You have to be creative to do most anything, from tying your shoe, in teaching someone how to do something, in speaking another language, to doing anything on a budget.”
“This is just another avenue for that. And I hope it becomes a place where more people realize that they are creative. I feel like the city is ready for it — with the Currier, the New Hampshire Institute of Art, there’s this critical mass [of art], but there’s no landing pad,” she said.
Theresa Caulkins will teach stained glass and Annie Campbell and Kate Cuppola will teach clay. A list of classes that will start on Jan. 7 can be viewed on the website (550arts.com), as can pricing.