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Meet Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon of HeARTspot Art Center and Gallery in East Providence

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jennifer. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a former public educator who spent nearly 20 years teaching high school before resigning and becoming an entrepreneur. The HeARTspot Art Center and Gallery is the product of what I saw as a need in my community of East Providence, as there was nothing quite like it here. HeARTspot provides a cultural center in the city, offering classes for all ages, a gallery, and a gift shop featuring the work of local artists and artisans. I like to view it as accessible to all, as I strive to create a welcoming environment for anyone who would like to learn more about the benefits of creating, appreciating or collecting art. As an artist-entrepreneur, one of my main goals is to support artists and provide (for those who need them) tools to thrive with their craft. HeARTspot also partners with local non-profits to work with at-risk and other special populations.

Back when I was studying in college to become an educator, I never would have imagined this is a path I would take. A lifetime of experiences–moving from Allston/Brighton to Rhode Island, getting bachelor degrees in education and sculpture, a masters in special education, studying abroad, working in the public school system, teaching myself how to paint, and serving on local boards dedicated to utilizing the arts to affect positive economic change–all of these things brought me to this unexpected place.

Once I made the decision to resign from my teaching/administrative position and said “yes” to the unknown road ahead, the universe opened up a world of possibilities I had no idea existed.

I’m proud to say that less than one year into this venture, in May of 2018, that my business was awarded “Best Gallery in Rhode Island” in the Providence Journal Reader’s Awards.

Being on this path has been humbling and quite an honor. I can’t wait to see what unfolds next!

Has it been a smooth road?
Has the road been smooth? No. Exciting? Yes! Venturing into unknown territory–leaving a secure job to do something like this was terrifying. At first, there were lots of sleepless nights, but I gained strength from the unwavering support of my family and friends. As it evolved, I found myself surrounded by an incredibly supportive community of artists and non-artists who have helped me make HeARTspot the incredibly special place that it is. The hours are long, but I’ve never done anything else so professionally satisfying in all of my life.

As the Owner/Operator of this operation, I’m everything from a teaching/exhibiting artist to PR person, web designer, social media promoter, graphic designer, curriculum director, store manager, event planner, and janitor. It’s not easy, but it’s so very worthwhile.

We’d love to hear more about HeARTspot Art Center and Gallery.
I touched on this a little already, but HeARTspot wears many proverbial hats. As a center of instruction, we’ve become known for creating classes for artists and non-artists alike to come and learn how to advance basic skills or how to utilize visual arts as a tool for dealing with the stresses of everyday life. A number of very talented artists educators have graced our classroom with a large variety of classes from painting to jewelry making, drawing, sculpture, art therapy, gong baths, and more. In addition to classes and workshops for adults and teens, we host an after-school enrichment program for elementary aged children and hosted a summer art camp this year that was wildly successful. We also host regular paint and wine nights, providing a fun way to socialize and have fun!

Apart from typical classes, I’ve also done work with teens living in local group homes via a therapeutic art journaling class via a grant provided through Rhode Island State Council of the Arts and Family Services of Rhode Island. There will also be upcoming classes catering to those who live with epilepsy, courtesy of The Epilepsy Foundation of New England. As a former special educator, these projects are very near and dear to my heart.

As a gallery space, we have hosted a large number of events which have not only supported local artists but have also provided a space for people in the community to come together socially for periodic gallery openings.

Our gift shop sells work on consignment for local artists and artisans and has proven to be an incredible way to support our local makers.

One thing that has struck me as amazing is that HeARTspot, in addition to being a place where longtime collectors purchase work, is that it has become a place where many people have become first-time art collectors. The environment is friendly and welcoming and has appealed to a large section of the population who never considered themselves ones who might start building a personal art collection. It’s a beautiful phenomenon.

I’m most proud of a collection of things we’ve accomplished this year–everything from winning the “Best Gallery” Providence Journal Award in May, to incredibly successful gallery openings in a city where there are no other galleries, to running successful classes in a variety of areas for a large number of typical and atypical populations, to having a scholarship program which provides access to classes to kids in East Providence which would otherwise not have it.

We are a unique anomaly in this city, and despite those who doubted this could work here it has proven to be very successful. There’s nothing else quite like us here or anywhere else in this state.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
As I said, we’re the only business of our kind here. It was a risk, but it has filled a need and is doing so much good for so many in a number of ways.

As a board member of the East Providence Arts Council, I (along with the other members) have been pushing for developing arts-based businesses here in our city. With the cooperation of the local city government, we are helping to make this place one that is welcoming to this kind of business. We abut a large number of cities and towns which have transformed their economic profiles via bringing the artists in. Providing interesting places for visiting and socialization has proven a wonderful way to attract a variety of other businesses, striking a nice symbiotic balance between arts and non-arts based establishments and makes these cities and towns more attractive places to visit and live.

I personally had very positive experiences getting this up and running through with the assistance of local officials, and I’m hopeful that soon to be newly elected city officials will continue to see the benefits of supporting the arts and work with us in this continued partnership, making East Providence a place more people want to come to and live.

The arts are only one piece of this very large puzzle but in my mind? It’s a very important one.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Red Carpet image courtesy of the Providence Journal Bulletin

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