A History of Westchester Community College Center for the Arts

In 1925, a woman named Chester Geppert Marsh was hired to be Westchester County’s first Director of Recreation. An accomplished craftsperson, she accepted the position with the understanding that she would be allowed to develop an arts program. In 1926, activities began in the Court Street School in White Plains, and quickly became the focal point for the Westchester arts community.

Mrs. Marsh became the first director of the Westchester Workshop at the County Center when the building opened in 1930. The Westchester Workshop was devoted to broadening the study of the arts and sciences. Courses were offered in a wide range of subjects, from the visual and performing arts to international relations and astronomy. At that time, Columbia and New York Universities offered academic credit for some of the Workshop’s classes.

In 1930, the demand for fellowship among Workshop artists was so great that students and instructors created the Westchester Arts and Crafts Guild. The Guild’s purpose was to promote and organize high-quality art educational opportunities, including exhibitions and lectures in the arts.

The1930s brought so much growth to the Westchester Workshop that programs were held at both the County Center and the Court Street School. In 1934, the Workshop became the center of the Westchester County WPA Federal Arts Project, and in 1939, works from more than fifty Workshop artists were accepted for exhibition in the World’s Fair in New York City.

During World War II, the US Navy appropriated the County Center building. Essential components of the Workshop program—such as the production of camouflage gear and art therapy for returning veterans—moved to the lower level of the County Office Building in White Plains.

The Workshop program resumed in 1946, after modernization of the County Center facilities. Once again, the program expanded so dramatically that it outgrew the building. Between 1950 and 1956, there were several proposals to move the Workshop to the John Hartford Estate in Valhalla (the present location of Westchester Community College).

Recognizing that the Workshop had become a school exclusively devoted to the visual arts and crafts in the postwar years, Westchester Workshop changed its name to Westchester Art Workshop in 1966. The Arts & Crafts Guild became its Student/ Faculty Association. The Art Workshop flourished throughout the sixties, becoming known for countywide art lectures and community service.

In the 1970s and 80s the institution became financially more autonomous supporting itself through professional fundraising efforts, including craft fairs, commercial graphic services offered to non-profit agencies in the county, a consignment gallery selling original works of hand-made arts and crafts, and student/faculty art shows.

In 1981, The Center took another leap, joining Westchester Community College, thereby gaining accreditation for its program. While maintaining a relationship with the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, affiliating with the college made The Center eligible to receive support from the State University of New York.

In 1986, the Center celebrated a move from its original County Center Building location to the bright new east wing of the building, gaining modern headquarters from the sixteen million dollar building renovation. The renovation resulted in beautiful, large new studios that were among the best designed in the state. With a space expanded to 26,000 square feet, boasting large windows, high ceilings, color corrected lighting, individual exhaust, air conditioning and heating controls in every studio, and state-of-the-art equipment, the new facilities were highly conducive to art education.

In 2009, Westchester Art Workshop officially changed its name to Westchester Community College Center for the Arts. The name change was intended to reflect the increasingly ambitious and comprehensive scope of the Center’s programming, its affiliation with Westchester Community College, and its evolving role as THE CENTER for art education in Westchester County.

Today, the original Westchester Community College Center for the Arts in White Plains serves 4500 credit enrollments a year, more than 600 children a year in the pre-college and youth programs, and thousands more through its special educational events and exhibitions. These public programs continue to grow, including collaborations with other county agencies and with area public schools.

From a few borrowed rooms in a school house in 1926, to its own exclusively designed space with state-of-the-art studio facilities, Westchester Community College Center for the Arts has continued to evolve throughout the years. Over these eighty-plus years of history, the Center has always remained true to its core values and beliefs: creativity is essential to life, and accordingly, art education is an essential aspect of our culture, to be made available to as wide a community as possible.