Lately, I’ve been feeling that everywhere I look there is a new arts organization or arts programming. I know that the wheels of progress can turn slowly. It makes me wonder if we are finally reacting to the fact that public schools have been cutting arts programming for years. It is no secret that in many districts if the school budget needs to be trimmed, the arts programs are the first to go. We’ve had STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum for years but finally, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) is making it into our vocabulary, and apparently the arts are becoming recognized as a part of a well-rounded education.

According to the non-profit organization Americans for the Arts, “Americans show overwhelming support for arts education.”

In their September 2018 poll of 3023 adults by Ipsos – a global market research firm- “91 percent believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students. Nine in ten believe it is important for students to receive an education in the arts, including dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts. This remains true whether asked about elementary school (94 percent), middle school (94 percent), or high school (93 percent) education.” (

Locally, one of the organizations developing programming in the arts is Exeter Fine Crafts, which has received a NH Charitable Foundation grant.

"Our non-profit status allows us to bring classes to people without the means to attend them otherwise. The grant is specifically for youth so we are partnering with other organizations," Cecelia Azzi, the grant coordinator for Exeter Fine Crafts, says. "We have worked with the Y, the Cooperative Middle School (CMS) and the American Independence Museum. We may also be doing a 1 or 2 day workshop with Arts in Reach.”

“We really want to reach the youth of this community. We have worked with the Guidance Counselors at CMS and will be doing workshops after school (at CMS) from 2:15 to 3:30 so students can take the late bus home,” explains Azzi.

Some of the upcoming workshops offered in conjunction with their partner organizations include paper marbling and journal making, block printing, self-portraiture, calligraphy, origami and braided chair mats. The Y calls their Monday afternoon art program “Art Club.” On Oct. 29, they will be hosting “sneaker art,” where sneakers become the canvas, led by Exeter Fine Crafts craftsperson Sarah Smith. The Y received sneakers donated by Converse.

Smith, who also teaches the paper marbling workshop, says, “I enjoy seeing people’s faces light up when they see what they create. People can go their own way (with paper marbling) creating classic patterns or using free motion.” Smith has been doing paper marbling for 12 years. “I got hooked after taking a class at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester,” she says. She teaches both youth and adults.

Sarah Koff teaches block printing. For the CMS workshop, they will design and carve the rubber block one session and print with it the next.

“I started block printing by making cards; it lends itself well to that. Then people wanted to buy them. I like working with people and teaching block printing and kids can do it, I don’t think they get a chance to do it (in school) as often as they used to. I sell prints at farmers' markets and older people show me the scars they got carving blocks in school (they used linoleum blocks) but they loved it, it is fun and rewarding; it is a meditative process, that’s why I love it,” says Koff.

In addition to youth programs which are funded by their grant, Exeter Fine Crafts offers classes for adults in their studios on the lower level of the shop. Lori Dilmore who runs the Educational Programming says the cost of classes pays for the teacher and materials but that the studio space needs upgrades. “We need a new floor in the clay studio and better lighting in the jewelry studio; we also need new tools and would like to offer some scholarships.” To help solve these needs Exeter Fine Crafts is hosting a fundraiser. Dilmore says, “We purchased one hundred 6x6 wood panels and asked members, spouses, friends to create on them. Several crafts people are doing things they have never done before. This boosts their creative juices for their own work.”

These 6x6 panels will be hung at Exeter Fine Crafts during the week of Oct. 15, but they are not for sale. On Friday, Oct. 19, there will be an artist reception with refreshments at the Exeter Fine Crafts shop. At this reception, all 6x6 artworks will be for sale for $50 each. This is a win/win as it allows the public to purchase original art work at an affordable price and all proceeds will benefit the Exeter Fine Crafts Education programs and studio spaces.

Enjoy a Friday night in downtown Exeter with Exeter Fine Crafts and help support local arts programming. You might just become the owner of an original work of art.

Vandy Leigh is a teaching artist and storyteller. She may be reached by email at:


Go & Do

What: "Small Art – The 6x6 Challenge"

When: 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 19

Where: Exeter Fine Crafts, 61 Water St., Exeter

Admission: Free

More info: All 6x6 art will be $50. Refreshments will be served. Visit or 603-778-8282 for more info.