PORT CHESTER, N.Y. - When Reena Kashyap took over as executive director of Port Chester's Clay Art Center in 1997, she was seeking to improve the arts education landscape of the town.
Kashyap changed the center from a business into a nonprofit five years ago in order to serve what she considered the lack of quality arts resources in the village. "Our programs did not serve the local population," Kashyap said of the Clay Art Center when it served as a business.
"By making it non-profit, its future is secured and there is a home for ceramics artists and students to be inspired, to bring meaning to their lives, to continue learning and to experience a means of artistic self-expression."
A potter, Kashyap lives and works in Rye. A graduate of the University of Bombay, she initially worked alone in a home studio when she moved to Westchester in 1986 but was looking for a community of clay artists who shared her interests and concerns.
Today, the Clay Art Center does just that. In addition to offering studio space, kilns and materials, Kashyap started an artist-in-resident program, awarded annually to an MFA graduate. Beyond Port Chester, the Clay Art Center has also participated in county-wide efforts to showcase artists and sponsor arts initiatives.
"I think in today's world, everybody's so caught up in technology and it's sort of moving to where it's much more virtual," Kashyap said. "People stop taking time out to actually do things with their hands." In addition to promoting creativity through ceramic classes, Kashyap said that the Clay Arts Center helps make a career as a ceramic artist viable through teaching positions and exhibitions.
She and her team also collaborate with more than 15 after-school programs and social services and offer workshops and gallery space to members. Kashyap, who teaches an advanced class at the center, will often observe classes and travel to where new programs are being taught.
In 2004, the Westchester Arts Council awarded her with the Community Service Award. Two years later, she was elected director-at-large of the National Council on Education of the Ceramic Arts.
"We serve the entire county of Westchester as we are the only center that is focused on ceramics," Kashyap said. "All our programs are geared to advance ceramics for the community and the people that live in and around it."
Drawing artists from all over Westchester County and Connecticut, she said that the center isn't just for artists. "Creativity is something we all have" she said. "We want the public to come in and see how people express themselves."