Voorhees Arts Council positive new gallery will play a big role in community engagement

Council in the process of planning events; most recent featured Dublin harpist, Madeleine Doherty

Madeleine Doherty

Even while the township sifts through the resumes of developers to decide the future makeup of the Town Center Mall, the building is far from desolate.

On June 29, the Voorhees Arts Council opened the doors to an art gallery that houses and sells the work of nearly 30, mostly local, artists: the Voorhees Arts Center and Gallery.

Marianne Leone, co-chair of the council and the gallery executive director, said, “We had it all.”

Choking up on reflection, Leone said approximately 150 people attended the event at which Mayor Michael Mignogna cut the ribbon and groups such as the Voorhees Theater Company performed.

“The arts are alive in Voorhees,” she said.

Local artists whose work consists of repurposed candy dishes, landfill items, pine needles, work focused on the human body and more are on display. Leone’s own photography is present on a shelf that takes viewers on a journey to see many endangered species.

Optimistic the township will settle on a development plan soon, the gallery holds an 18-month lease in the mall.

“We feel like we are here to stay,” she said.

“I don’t like that my art has to go back into a dark storage room,” she said, referring to the culture of pop-up, temporary art galleries.

With this as her primary motivation, the gallery came into being.

However, not convinced that a standalone gallery could stay afloat for long, events, classes and an ever-changing selection of art are part of the plan.

Tween Art Camp is one of the planned recurring events coming to the gallery. Every Wednesday from July 25 through Aug. 29, tweens can participate in three-hour lessons and talk with older artists.

On the third Friday of each month, the gallery will hold poetry open mics and host sessions for people to meet the gallery artists.

Leone said they are open to any artists to contact the gallery about displaying work or being part of an event.

“The art community is very responsive, it’s not a problem to get them to engage,” she said, noting the gallery already has a wait list of interested artists.

While the gallery has these recurring events planned, it also hosts events such as “A Special Evening with the Harp.”

In July, the gallery hosted Dublin harpist Madeleine Doherty. Situated in the gallery, Doherty played the harp and spoke to visitors about how much of her music is inspired by her many walks in the Wicklow Mountains.

“The music I compose arises from my own experience and love of nature,” Doherty said.

However, she mentioned, “There are two strands to my music.”

Doherty is a hospital certified harp therapist.

Before becoming certified, Doherty played at many corporate events in Ireland.

“I discovered people were going on journeys,” she said, adding she realized music from a harp has meditative powers.

In Ireland, Doherty founded Harps for Healing, an organization that brings harpists into nursing homes and hospices to play for patients and their caregivers.

Similarly in the United States, Doherty travels to hospitals with a group called Bedside Harp from Bensalem.

Leone said in a call for financial assistance for the gallery, a nonprofit partnered with the township, “Artists inspire creativity in one another and in other people who don’t even think of themselves as creative, hereby artists play key roles in helping communities develop creative ways to protect the character and environmental qualities of their communities.”

Adding that the arts help create community engagement, better mental health and more, she added, “Artists who are engaged in civil society help other people to express their creativity, which can lead to better solutions to a variety of public policy issues and sustainability. And artists and arts activities cluster in areas of greater density and diversity — which helps contribute to cultural richness and community sustainability.”

For more information, visit the Voorhees Arts Council Facebook.