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This Month's Feature.........

ArtWorks at the West Side YMCA - Visual Arts Program
Kate Missett, Coordinator

Just north of Columbus Circle stands a 14-story structure whose imposing edifice belies the continuous stream of people going in and out of its doors. The West 63rd Street home of the Westside YMCA stood as the largest YMCA building in the world when it was built in 1930. Designed by a prominent estate architect and builder, Dwight James Baum, the structure is said to resemble a twelfth century fortified Italian town. Portions of the exterior are clad with terracotta tiles and the interior decoration features Majolica tiles from Spain that have been recently restored. When these ceramic adornments were installed nearly 85 years ago, the craftsmen most likely never imagined that people from the future would be learning how to craft and create in clay in the rooms inside – today’s students in the
visual arts program of ArtWorks at the West Side  YMCA.

“We are the only Y in the country that has a big visual arts program,” says Coordinator Kate Missett. During the 1960s, a period of self-exploration, the Upper West Side community became interested in self-expression through the arts. The Westside director at the time – Jason Schindler – founded
The Writer’s Voice program and began to add programs in various visual arts to meet the needs of the community. Classes in ceramics were by far the most popular. By the time Missett came to teach at the Y in the early 1990s, the ceramics program had grown quite strong, while other visual arts programming had been discontinued. A trained ceramic artist, Missett earned her M.F.A. at the Pratt Institute and went on to teach, first at Greenwich House and then at the West
Side Y.

After several years of teaching, Missett was asked to take over as coordinator of the
rtWorks visual arts program. “I never in a million years conceived of myself as an administrator,” she says, “but someone was needed and I reluctantly agreed.” Her nearly 20-year tenure has proven that she does indeed have the skills to manage a complex program with dozens of instructors and hundreds of students, who vary in age from 6-year-old school children to 87-year-old retirees. Under her direction, the program has expanded to include a variety of visual arts. “So often, potters would come to me to complain that they don’t know how to draw, or that they don’t have a good understanding of color. I slowly started to add programming to support their artistic development,” she explains. Today, students can take classes in drawing, watercolor, stained glass, beaded jewelry, and glass fusing, in addition to a full curriculum of ceramic topics.

The ceramics program occupies dedicated space in the historic building. The studio has four electric kilns and a small glass kiln. Students work on electric wheels. Three clay bodies are used – two high-fire stonewares and one low-fire terra cotta. There are two pug mills to recycle clay. Missett says that the student body is primarily adult, especially during the academic year. Classes are offered six days a week, on an eight-week session schedule. The studio is open seven days, always available for any student who is registered for a class. Missett says that many students return session after session, but that there is a continual flow of new students. She says, “I work hard not to let our program become insulated, with an in-crowd. We have a friendly and welcoming studio.” As new people move into the neighborhood, they look to the YMCA for enrichment programs such as sports and exercise. Missett says that this brings a ready audience into the building and into her classrooms.

The summer season brings many children to the Y for a variety of camp programs, one of which is Art Camp. The camp is divided into four two-week sessions, each grounded by a different theme that is explored through visual art, music, dance, and theatre. This summer’s themes are Nature, Literature, Storytelling, and Creating Art from Art. The camp is structured such that a child can participate for as few as two weeks or a much as the entire summer. Missett says, “It’s very lively here in the summer. The kids kind of take over the building!” A lighter program for adults is available during the summer months, too, with a shortened 6-week session. “This is a good way to try out something new,” says Missett.

The many student artists that come through the West
Side Y’s classes are given the opportunity to share their work through two unique “galleries.” “Someone came upon a marvelous, huge Victorian cabinet – I don’t know where – and thought it would be perfect for displaying finished pieces,” Missett explains. Glass instructor Ron Beckett made some repairs and adjustments, and the case was set up in the lobby. Visitors to the Y enjoy seeing the works and have purchased pieces from the case. A second case was added, for two-dimensional works. Other opportunities for exposure are annual spring and holiday sales and participation in craft and street fairs, with demonstrations and sales.

Kate Missett wears many hats, not only in her role as Coordinator of the
rtWorks at the West Side YMCA visual arts program, but also in other aspects of her life. She is an Adjunct Professor at Kingsborough College and City College and continues to develop her own art. She has a studio in Brooklyn, where she explores sculptural forms based on Egyptian canopic jars. She starts her pieces on the wheel and then transforms them using image transfer techniques, often from her own photography. (See her website, at www.katemissett.com.) Missett says that she manages to balance her life with patience and determination, and especially with the support of the YMCA. “The Y,” she says, “is very supportive of artists. For example, I was recently able to go away for a three-week workshop, with the support of the Y.” The security of an institutional umbrella that the YMCA offers is a rare find for an artist. Missett extends that support to the student artists who enter into the long history of ceramic arts at ArtWorks at the West Side YMCA.

Click here for a PDF of the Westside YMCA Program Guide:

For more information about the Westside YMCA arts programs, visit their website or   or call Kate Missett at (212) 912-2638

The West Side YMCA
5 West 63rd Street
New York, NY  10023


Ceramic Supply Inc’s Repair Specialist, Ryan Soper, has accepted a position at a New York gallery. We are pleased to welcome Jimmy Rosario, who replaces Ryan.  Jimmy comes to us with a diploma in Building Maintenance Superintendent from the HoHoKus School of Trades and Technical Sciences in Patterson, New Jersey.  Jimmy has over ten years of experience in the building trades.  He calls New Jersey home and enjoys hands-on, technical work.  He says, “I take pride in being the man people can count on.  My clients’ satisfaction is my number-one priority.  I like to see a smile for a job well-done.”  Electrical maintenance was Jimmy’s favorite subject in his technical training.  He was able to easily adapt his knowledge to the maintenance of kilns.  Welcome to Ceramic Supply, Inc., Jimmy!


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