Emily Peck in front of some of the many wondrous items for sale in the Clay Art Center Gift Shop
New Director at the Wheel of Clay Art Center
By Robin Jovanovich
What does the director of an arts center do in her first year on the job during a pandemic? She gets creative, of course.
In the 12 months that Emily Peck has been executive director of the neighboring Clay Art Center, she has re-crafted the landscape.
From Day One, she has reached out to the Port Chester community and beyond. Since Covid-19 hit in March, Peck’s mission shifted to keeping members engaged and equipped with all the tools they needed, especially wheels for the potters.
Online classes and virtual talks with artists from all over the globe (“one artist in New Zealand set her alarm for 4 a.m. so she could be on the call!”) have been a lifeline for many near and far. They started offering youth online classes right after the facility was required to close.
When registration for fall classes opened in mid-August, eight of them immediately sold out. “We had no choice but to make classes smaller, but every artist is thankful for ways to connect and we’re expanding our programs and reach to meet the demand,” said Peck in a recent interview at the Center.
Among the new offerings are Makers Date Nights on Fridays, in which couples learn wheel throwing (no domestic violence allowed!); Hand Building for Beginners; ‘Tween and Teen Wheel classes; Family Clay on Saturdays; and Drawing to Create Ceramic classes.
They’ve taken advantage of the outdoor space and created a new event space as well.
Recognizing that countless people have been drawn to the arts during the pandemic, the Clay added five-week introductory classes to its wheelhouse. “And we lowered our prices,” Peck stated proudly. She gives lots of credit to James Pastore, whom she hired as Program Director in February.
This year, they are hosting three artists-in-residence and several virtual exhibits. Their annual benefit and auction, Hand in Hand, on October 22, will go on. It’s virtual, but not to be missed. Peck says she and the staff are already planning the Holiday Show. Meanwhile, visit the Clay online store (clayartcenter.org) any day of the week.
While Peck has had a passion for art since her Midland School days (“They had a terrific Arts program!), it wasn’t until she spent a summer at Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Conn., that she developed a real interest in ceramics.
After graduating from Rye High School, class of 1997, she earned an undergraduate degree in Art History at Vassar College. Her first job was in Education Department of The Metropolitan Museum. While working there, she went back to school to earn a Master’s in Visual Arts Administration from New York University.
In 2008, she brought her talents to the Americans for the Arts, where she advocated for the National Endowment for the Arts, provided research and resources, and created community partnerships with foundations and businesses.
“After the 2016 presidential election, I passed by a pottery studio in New York City and on a whim signed up for a class,” Peck recalled. Fast forward to the fall of 2019, when she saw the job description for the Clay Art Center position. “I jumped!”
Emily Peck’s parents still live in Rye, and while she is a resident of Queens, she has been happy to be back home, and close to her job. “It’s given me a wonderful local perspective. I’ve gotten to know the artists in every sense.”
She noted, “Proceeds from the artist talk by Joan Grangenois-Thomas will be donated to the NAACP.” Last year, Grangenois-Thomas, a longtime advocate for social justice, became the first woman of color to be elected to the Board of Trustees of the Village of Port Chester.
Today, when you ask Emily Peck about herself, she’s pleased to say she’s a potter.