Lyme Academy of Fine Arts Gets Back to its Roots, Offers New Classes


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OLD LYME — With a $1.657 million budget for FY21-22, about 120 students enrolled in summer classes, and a small full-time core program that will start in the fall, Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is rebounding after two rough years. 

“People are so enthusiastic to be able to finally come and receive classes in person and meet other peers, so it’s a really positive atmosphere,” said Amaya Gurpide, director of drawing, who was hired in February along with her husband, Jordan Sokol, who is artistic director for the school. 

Sokol said a range of summer classes, landscape workshops and youth programs are underway and that the new core program will enroll about 10 students in the fall trimester and may offer as many as 15 seats by spring 2022. Workshops and part-time classes will continue throughout the year. 

The school was established by Elizabeth Gordon Chandler in 1976 and became accredited to grant Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in 1992, changing its name to Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. In 2014 the school affiliated with University of New Haven for accreditation of degrees, but the university discontinued the affiliation in August 2019, which placed the future of the art academy in question. 

Michael Duffy, chair of the academy board, told CT Examiner on July 4 that the board passed a balanced $1.657 million budget in June that included revenue streams from tuition and fees, including $9,600 per year for full-time core students. The school expects to offer about 25 workshops per year and about four weekly part-time classes. Additional fees will come from youth programming, open drawing and printmaking sessions, and potential residencies in collaboration with other schools. 

“We adopted a prudent budget but we really will depend on the support of the community — they’re a critical partner in our work. We’re so happy that the Town of Old Lyme appropriated $20,000 that we’ve received for the 21-22 fiscal year… that allows us to do the community program that we have planned,” he said. 

Other sources of revenue include sales in the art store on campus as well as donations, grants and in-kind donations from individuals, foundations and the government. The school receives rental income from the France Foundation, the Sill House galleries, and studios. Endowment income comes from the Deane Keller chair fund, which pays Sokol and Gurpide’s salaries, unrestricted endowment income and scholarship aid. 

The school is considering a membership program that could include the printmaking studio, art history lectures, studio rentals, and discounts for part-time classes and art store purchases.  

Duffy also said there were several fundraising events planned.

“The donations and grants both from individuals, from government, from foundations — that’s critical — we have received in six months of 2021 from January 1 Through June 30 approximately $400,000 in donations.” 

The school would like to open the in-school cafeteria as a cafe open to the public, Duffy said, but that may require a zoning special permit. 

In a July 4 email to CT Examiner, Duffy said total expenses for the fiscal year, including depreciation expenses, was $1.654 million. The total included $130,000 for an executive position and an administrative position, both full-time, and $100,000 for two full-time and one part-time facilities and security positions. The art store will require $29,000 for one full-time employee. Other expenses included health benefits, taxes and workers compensation. 

As part of the $1.654 million in expenses, Duffy did not provide specifics for full-time and part-time faculty salaries and benefits, model fees, education Supplies, guest lecturers and artists’ stipends. Other unspecified costs included marketing and communication, legal services, consulting and accounting fees, insurance, property taxes, art store cost of goods, and maintenance, cleaning and utilities for the grounds and buildings. 

“It’s going to be a break-even budget for us year one,” said Mora Rowe, executive director of the academy, who started in February. 

She said the board will go on a retreat on July 24 to start the process of a five-year capital plan. 

“That will determine the urgency just for building upkeep and regular maintenance on our buildings and then, what is our wish list, and then, looking at all the different revenue opportunities and what is going to be the most lucrative and that aligns well with our mission,” she said. 

The board presented a 10-point manifesto in December for the revival of the academy as it plans for the school’s 50th anniversary in 2026.   

The manifesto includes adhering to the philosophy of Chandler, who believed artists needed to learn the fundamentals of figurative art — a vision that  Sokol said was nearly identical to the curriculum he and Gurypide were creating, which will be taught in small classes with a high teacher to student ratio. 

“It is essentially to carry on the tradition, the principles and the history of figurative art, representational art, and that is the core of what we’re doing and that’s why we refer to our program as the core,” he said. “Our curriculum is heavily focused on the figure — drawing the figure, painting the figure, sculpting the figure. And it’s very intensive so some of the longest days of the week will go from nine in the morning till nine at night, and they will cover working from live models, working on plaster casts, and then having evening model sessions.”

Students will have access to their studios from six a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, he said. 

“The only way to really develop your skill and develop one’s ability is to put in those kinds of hours. The program is really based on a systematic progression of repetitive exercises and so the students really just need to put in the hours and put in the mileage, and that’s when they’re really going to start to see the progress,” he said. “What we try to do here is to create that structure for the students to be able to just thrive in.”