Meet Jamie Crooke Powell: The Creative Force Behind Wrightwood’s New Community Arts Center & Gallery

PHOTO: Leandra Moreno-Prince - NewsPlus

Jamie’s take on the new art center: “This space doesn’t need to be huge it doesn’t need to be a museum type space. It can be at the scale that the community is at but hopefully people will show up and engage with it because it is by and for the community. We want everyone to feel welcomed, this is for them.”

The new Community Art Center & Gallery is a true labor of love made possible by the partnership between two creative arts organizations: the Wrightwood Arts Center and Drawing Together.

We all know and love the WAC, who organizes the popular Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival and used to have a quaint gallery space above the Village Grind. However, you may not know much about Drawing Together, a non-profit focused on arts education and community-based art projects. I sat down with Jamie Crook Powell, President of Drawing Together, to find out how she ended up in Wrightwood, the importance of socially engaged art, and the powerful impact the new arts center has already made in our community.

For the past 12 years, Jamie and her family have been faithful visitors of Wrightwood, traveling from the Los Angeles area to experience nature and the simplicities of small-town life. The frequent visits allowed them to connect with the town in such a personal way that Jamie’s husband even proposed to her in Wrightwood during one of their many excursions to the mountain. “It was always kind of our home-away-from-home in a way before even moving up here,” said Jamie. It was during the pandemic when they were expecting their second child, that she and her husband decided to look for more affordable housing outside of LA. So, they left their apartment in Pasadena and bought a home in Wrightwood.

The community gathers outside the new arts center to listen to music, make art and enjoy the grand opening celebration.

Having a master’s degree in Fine Arts and several years of experience with arts education back in LA, Jamie was eager to bring her expertise and non-profit Drawing Together to a more rural area. “Some grant opportunities came up, and so I wrote a grant to do a project up here before knowing if we were even going to live here or not, but it just worked out,” said Jamie. The awarded funds allowed her organization to collaborate with WAC and Wrightwood Elementary in 2022 by creating a community-based art project. Local elementary students were able to attend interactive assemblies that emphasized cultural diversity and were led by contemporary artists. “I feel really fortunate to be able to work with them [Wrightwood Elementary] because while each teacher does their own version of arts education, I felt like there was space to add more arts […] There is a lot of interest in arts, people love it, and they want it. I think every community could use more arts and more arts funding, but it’s nice specifically in a community like this where everyone was very receptive, and also there was, what I perceived, as more of a need.”

With the children’s arts programs taking off, Jamie felt a desire to expand even further. While coming across a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jamie discovered that there were pressing social issues that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic and caused a national epidemic of loneliness. The report also showed that social isolation shortens one’s lifespan considerably and is worse for one’s health than smoking. Jamie felt the need to explore a creative solution to this problem, and thus, the idea for a communal arts center was born. “This space will counteract the larger public health issue of loneliness by offering a space where people can gather and engage in art-making/viewing activities that are proven to be beneficial to one’s health,” said Jamie.

Tim Berge, President of Wrightood Arts Center, and Jamie Crooke Powell, President of Drawing Together, receive recognition from Congresswoman Judy Chu during the Community Arts Center & Gallery grand opening.

That emphasis on community gatherings and social engagement is apparent when you walk inside the building to a large communal table for hosting art classes and events. The new location still has artwork on display that will rotate regional and local artists, but it also includes art supplies you can buy, a shelf of used books, and a small carpeted kids’ play area with toys.

On Saturday, November 4th, a successful grand opening celebration took place at the new Wrightwood Community Art Center & Gallery on Park Drive. Many locals were in attendance to support the creative hub, and the event even brought out prominent local representatives, including Victor Hernandez, a representative for California State Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R), and the Congresswoman herself, Judy Chu (D).

Victor Hernandez, an office member for California State Senator, Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh attends The Community Arts Center & Gallery grand opening.

The art classes and community events are already growing in popularity. The center hosted a portrait drawing workshop in November. Next month, on December 2nd, there will be a book signing event with author/artist Alan Nakagawa from 2:00 pm-4:00 pm, and on December 16th, an artist exchange will be offered from 2:00 pm-4:00 pm. Visit the Community Arts Center & Gallery at 6045 Park Drive in Wrightwood, open Thursday 12:00 pm-4:00 pm, Friday 2:00 pm-5:00 pm & Saturday-Sunday 12:00 pm-4:00 pm. Follow Drawing Together and Wrightwood Arts Center on social media for even more artistic events to come.

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