This year marks the 25th anniversary of Featherstone Center for the Arts, located on the old Stevens family farm in Oak Bluffs. It has grown and been renovated over the years, most recently in 2017 as it opened the beautiful barn that contains the Francine Kelly Gallery, named for its former executive director, and current director Ann Smith’s mother. If the familial connection between the former and current director is worth noting, it’s also worth mentioning that “connection” is what this art center is all about. We talked to Ann Smith and director of development Posie Haeger about Featherstone’s history, and what makes it such a beloved art center for the Island community.
“Twenty-five years marks the number of years we’ve been on this campus,” Smith explained. Originally called Meetinghouse Center for the Arts, a small group of artists and art enthusiasts moved around from place to place before purchasing the farm and land where it is now. The various buildings on the property served as classrooms and a pottery studio, and the Stevens family home would become the main gallery.
Renovations were completed in 2017, with fresh spaces for painting and drawing, a new pottery and jewelry-making studio, and the open barn where artists’ exhibits fill the walls and the rest of the space.
Smith said they learned a lot from the COVID-19 experience, and they held as many safe outdoor events as they could last year, including movies shown on the grounds in collaboration with the M.V. Film Center’s Richard Paradise. He had originally screened movies at Featherstone years ago.
“It does feel really special that we came together again, because we curate all the art shows at the Film Center. It felt really special to have movies back; there were decades or so when it wasn’t in place. It was nice to rethink and collaborate,” Smith said.
She said they had no idea when COVID would end or what things would look like afterward, but they did know that musicians had limited opportunities to play live music. Featherstone hosted Musical Mondays for years, and they are supportive of Island musicians. “We support artists — and that includes musicians and writers and artists,” Smith said.
“There is so much joy for people when they sit outside for movies and music,” Haeger said, “and you feel a bit of normalcy. You’re in this beautiful setting outside, and you’re still having fun in a pandemic.
With last year and its virtual and outdoor events somewhat in the rearview mirror, Featherstone is ready to have an event-filled summer season, live and in-person. There is an activity scheduled for nearly every day of the week, along with all the exhibits and special events. The number of students in the classrooms at Featherstone will remain at a safe number for now, but all the classes are up and running.
“We’ll have Musical Mondays, the Tuesday Photographers Salon hosted by Michael Johnson at 7 pm. Wednesday evenings around 8:15 or 8:30 there is our partnership with Richard Paradise to offer outdoor movies — all types of movies, Richard’s choice. There’s the Thursday night jazz series, not all Thursday nights, but some. And on Fridays, something very special is that we will host Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish almost all summer long, and for those few Fridays they can’t play, we’ll have additional bands from 6:30 to 8 pm.”
For more information and the upcoming schedule of events, visit featherstoneforthearts.org. Featherstone is open seven days a week, noon to 4 pm, with extended hours for special events.