Art House937 opens creative space to community
Story by John Hamilton
Photos by Tom Barr
There’s a place for those who want to explore their artistic aspirations and grow stronger as a community — even in these unusual times, and even in a small city.
Co-founded by husband and wife Andrew and Jennifer Conarroe, Art House937 in Wilmington is a creative space operated by the Conarroes and other local crafters and artists.
Art House937 began as a creative space for Andrew at the Murphy Studios in the historic Murphy Theatre.
“It started as a way to get all of Andrew’s art supplies out of our house,” said Jennifer Conarroe.
But after that opened, Andrew Conarroe — only in his 30s at the time — suffered a stroke.
“As a result of that stroke, many friends of mine ended up coming together and paying for my studio rent until I was able to recover,” said Andrew Conarroe.
They helped raised $1,500 to cover the rent. Once Andrew Conarroe recovered, about three years ago they held an open house where locals wanted to know about classes.
At first, they developed classes tailored toward what people were directly requesting.
But as attention grew, so did their need for space. First, it started with Andrew’s studios, then later they started using the community room at Murphy Studios, then to any open spot available, and finally came the need for a new location.
“We wanted more accessibility, more of a presence, more of our own taking ownership of a space,” said Andrew Conarroe.
Lo and behold, a storefront opened on Sugartree Street, which has been seeing a revitalization. Then almost immediately after they opened the building, COVID-19 hit.
“Then we faced the challenge of, ‘How do we make this work?’,” said Andrew Conarroe.
While each member wants to bring something to Art House937, the group is really hoping is create a better opportunity to engage and build strength in the community through arts and activism.
“We have a beautiful (store) front area, and lots of space for people to come together and do things,” said Andrew Conarroe.
Art House937 houses over 40 artists and makers from Clinton County. It offers a wonderfully diverse shop of hand-made gifts and vintage goods from regional artists, makers and collectors including hand-made items and jewelry and fine art, plus vintage threads, books, stickers and pins.
While the pandemic may have hindered the full experience of the Art House, they were able to still hold safe classes and events for the public, including events promoting civil rights and a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Last year Art House937 created a community crane art project and made it free and available to anyone in Clinton County. “The Japanese art of origami and the specific symbolism connected to the cranes was appropriate on multiple levels,” Andrew Conarroe said. “Our goal was 1,000; in the end, we received over 2,000 cranes.”
‘All just friends’
Dani Byrd, one of the “Masters of Disaster” at the Art House, doesn’t quite recall what brought them all together.
“We were all just friends; we’re all living that bohemian lifestyle so we had the time and wanted to be a part of it,” said Byrd.
Alex Rhinehart, Art House’s handyman, was brought in to look over the building and help with repairs and refurbishing the place.
Emma Buchanan, director of programming and “maker of magic,” remembers getting involved when she moved back from California.
“We all went to high school together, and I don’t remember having anything like this when we were younger,” she said. “So, knowing that this was going to be something special for the community and giving something to young kids was what made me want to be involved.”
Another aspect of Art House937 is to show kids there’s a lot of experiences awaiting them.
“It’s hard for kids to have a perspective outside of their own hometown or backyard,” said Andrew Conarroe. “As a parent, that’s one of my primary responsibilities is to let my kids know there’s more out there. We’re trying to show that the world is bigger than they think it is.”
Despite COVID-19, they’ve been able to hold programs that help strengthen self-esteem and provide fun for all ages.
There’s the mini-makers program for kids and their parents/guardians to share experiences. The art bar where folks can come in, sit down at Art House’s “bar” and it would function and as a full-service bar for art supplies.
They’ve also been able to do some take-home art kits that people can pick up and do at home.
A huge feature of Art House is the “Loose Parts” — an entire wall filled with dozens of items from beads to doll glasses where patrons simply pay what they can.
“Cost should never inhibit creativity,” said Andrew Conarroe. “Our hope is that, with Loose Parts, everyone will have access to high-quality art and craft supplies for a fraction of the cost.
The Conarroes want area residents to know that there is a safe place for both adults and kids to come and create art. The responses they’ve gotten have been more than what they could hope for.
“There was a family that came to some of our big events. A family I had never met,” said Andrew Conarroe. “They had camped out for like two hours and they were just enjoying the day, the area, and they kept on thanking us for being there.
“It’s really nice when your friends support you, but it’s also nice when a stranger supports you.”
Andrew Conarroe adds, “Art House not only exists but flourishes because our founding principle is to fill the need of the community we have built. Anything above that is just a bonus. We are thrilled to share Art House with everyone. We will continue to serve our community, regardless of what that looks like.
“We have room for everyone!”
Art House 937
70 W. Sugartree St., Wilmington
Visit its Facebook page www.facebook.com/arthouse937.