Shippensburg Arts Programming & Education (SHAPE) celebrated two decades of cultivating a love of the arts last Friday evening with a 20th Anniversary Celebration featuring many artifacts along its timeline, which began in 1999.

There were posters from original arts festivals. Lifetime member Mary Hickman's painting of the gallery’s previous home at 20 W. King St. was on display, and even the original logo designed by Kent Roberts that has seen many variations over the years.

While many organizations and businesses have come and gone in downtown Shippensburg, SHAPE has continued its legacy thanks to its many volunteers.

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of this organization. From day one, it's been all volunteer,” said founding member Kurt Smith, and current gallery director, in his opening remarks. “We have never had a paid position at this organization, so for 20 years, it's existed, and has grown, and has flourished all because of everybody in this room. All your contributions, your sweat, your spirit and your time. Thank you all so, so much because SHAPE wouldn't be here today without all of you.”

Smith took time at the celebration to inform a group of more than 140 artists, volunteers, fans and community members – making up the largest turnout in this gallery's history –  about where the organization started and a little about its history. 

SHAPE began as an idea in the fall of 1999 at 33 W. King St. where Smith worked as a graphic designer at Vivid Imagery. Mary-Margaret Laviska came into his shop one day and told him about her desire to gather a group of artists, art lovers and local business owners in support of the arts. Smith responded that he was all-in on the idea.

The inaugural group held the first meeting in a second-floor room of the Shippensburg library, and he spoke of the year-long organization of the 1st annual Shippensburg Arts Festival, created from scratch. Smith noted the first festival Oct. 7, 2000 was the “impetus to create SHAPE.”

Although SHAPE was doing well, it took several years before the group opened its first official gallery at 39 W. King St., next to Pague and Fegan Home & Hardware. The organization held a few gallery shows, and also organized a second arts festival.

“Once the gallery started, we focused on that and didn't do the arts festival for several years. But, the gallery started to thrive, and it was the first time in my memory -- and I grew up in Shippensburg -- that there was ever an art gallery in downtown Shippensburg,” Smith said.

From there, he said a lot of board members came and went, and many different art classes and exhibits were held in the first official SHAPE gallery. SHAPE has hosted a Shippensburg high school student art exhibit since 2004, and has even hosted some high-profile artists such as Stan Honda and Civil War artist Dale Gallon. 

The group eventually moved to a second gallery located at 20 W. King St. in 2011, and leased the building from Betty Fogelsonger. After a few years, they were asked to leave due to other plans for the building.

Curt saw 19 E. King St., SHAPE’s current home, come available across from the Quality Inn & Suites (Shippen Place Hotel) in 2016, and decided to jump on the opportunity.

“We came in and looked around. It was a little rough around the edges. Everything here was painted yellow, and this wall and that wall was all peg board, and with the help of several volunteers, we transformed this space into a really nice gallery for downtown Shippensburg with a great big window to put art in to show everybody what we do.”

During last week’s celebration, there was a lot of food, beverages and smiles from those who came to peruse through the history of SHAPE. Nick Andrew Staver also sang and played guitar. Attendees also checked out artwork from artists who have been here since the beginnings of SHAPE.

“This is the best night I think we've had in a long time, and I'm very happy to be here,” said Anne Cherry, board vice president.

Smith and Cherry cracked open some champagne and organized a toast in celebration of the anniversary between those in attendance. It was a night of reflection for many as to why they decided to be part of the organization’s history.

“I love to paint, and I love to get critiqued,” said Mona Papoutsis, of Chambersburg. “I wanted some place to show my art, so I joined SHAPE.”

Papoutsis creates scenic art through her oil paintings, and had attended many galleries at SHAPE. She has been a member for the last two years.

“Anne Cherry works so hard, she really does,” Papoutsis said. “She puts a lot of effort into it, and she doesn't get a salary. I think this is wonderful, and I wish it would get more funding. The crowd tonight is unbelievable.”

Mark Wojciechowski has been a member of SHAPE for more than a decade, having showcased his digital photography and found object art. He would not have joined SHAPE as an artist if it weren't for Smith and the late Shippensburg University professor Margaret Evans.

“I was told that I am never going to grow as an artist if I don't get out of my bubble,” he said. “I was deeply personal, and I didn't want to share.”

He highlighted SHAPE's legacy of teaming up with other local organizations as one of the main positives of what this organization brings to the table. These partnerships are a great way to expand people's perception of the arts, or as he put it: “No one has a monopoly on creativity.”

Wojciechowski noted there are a lot of people who say they are not artists, but his opinion is everyone is inherently gifted as an artist in some shape or form. He recalled an event with the Franklin Learning Center in Chambersburg from a few years ago where they were able to see the capabilities of children with disabilities, noting the moment was “powerful” to see what they were able to create. 

Photographer Chuck Armstrong echoed the value in being able to have a place to show one’s work.

“It's a good place to show your work, and you're with like-minded people,” Armstrong said. “I'm trying to be more confident with my work. If it remains on my computer, then no one gets to see it. There is more value in galleries, and you get feedback.”

As a business owner himself, he said he was impressed with what SHAPE has accomplished, and he looks forward to expanding his repertoire in art one day by taking one of SHAPE's offered classes.

During the evening, Lauren Nye, director of exhibitions at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, also spoke about the importance of the arts in Shippensburg.

“We had our senior art exhibit at the SHAPE gallery, and I think that’s how a lot of young people in Shippensburg get their first taste of what it means to exhibit artwork; go to a gallery; see other people’s artwork; and I cannot express enough how absolutely valuable that is, especially to the young person in Shippensburg.”

Seeing your own work in a gallery means a lot, she said. Having your work featured in a gallery validates a person as a young artist, and it encourages a person because it lets them know that there is potential for a career in art, she added.

Cherry spoke about the future of SHAPE, whether it be putting together a large group to travel to exhibits in places like Harrisburg to see Pablo Picasso’s work, or revitalizing the Solstice Arts Festival that was sadly canceled after 15 years due to lack of volunteers.

SHAPE’s openings and exhibits are always free and open to the public. SHAPE’s hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information on upcoming events and exhibits, visit: www.shapeart.org

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