Darien nonprofit offers one-stop shop in the arts
Every day after school, 18-year-old Meghan Wood comes to a place she refers to as “family” — the Darien Arts Center (DAC).
Meghan started dancing at DAC when she was 3 years old. She is currently in DAC’s Senior Company.
Aside from dance, Meghan has taken martial arts classes at DAC since the third grade and is now a second-degree black belt.
Founded in 1975, DAC, at 2 Renshaw Road, is a private, nonprofit organization that offers a wide variety of classes for ages 3 to adult.
With classes such as painting, music, theater, architecture, sculpture, poetry, and dance, DAC is for those who want to exercise their creativity in any artistic outlet they may have.
Six hundred to 700 people take classes at DAC each year, according to Allen.
DAC rents its space from the town of Darien. It’s supported by tuition, ticket sales and private donations, as well as a grant from the state of Connecticut.
For the fourth year in a row, DAC is featuring its Pic Darien Smartphone Photo Contest, with submissions being accepted from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14.
This year’s photo contest categories include: People and Pets, Landscapes, Seascapes and Nature, Travel, Food and Drink, and Abstract, and new this year — Love, Anguish and Triumph.
“Last year, we had over 300 entries from amateurs and professionals, from as far away as Maine, Tennessee, South Carolina and San Francisco with a winner from Mississippi,” DAC board member and event chairman Andrea Jackson said.
DAC is launching its spring classes the first week of January. More than 60 dance classes are available, including ballet, tap, hip-hop, lyrical, modern, and jazz.
“What sets us apart from other dance schools is our all-inclusive approach and variety of dance techniques offered, with multiple performance opportunities each year,” Allen said.
DAC’s visual arts department focuses on traditional painting and drawing techniques, as well as contemporary methods, according to Allen. Students learn a variety of media including fashion design.
In DAC’s theater classes, students develop their acting skills, analyze stories, and improve their performance technique.
DAC relies upon volunteers to help run its programs, according to Amy Allen, DAC’s executive director.
“We depend on hundreds of volunteers each year to help with fund-raising events and all programs, including our community theater productions and art show and sale,” Allen said. “Volunteers are always needed to help with box office, stage managing, lighting and sound crew, [and] set up and cleanup for events.”
DAC’s music program — which includes classes in rock, video game, anime, classical, jazz, and pop music — focuses on the skills needed to read music, and to perform and enjoy playing an instrument.
DAC also has a martial arts program, which focuses more on the internal aspect of martial arts — “meaning forms and techniques — [and] not as much fighting and sport competition,” said Bonnie Gombos, DAC dance department director and martial arts teacher of DAC’s Martial Arts program.
Allen said it’s very “beneficial” to have all the different programs under one roof at DAC because “families of all ages can find a class or event to suit their individual interests.”
“We are very unique in that most organizations are specific to one medium,” Allen added.
When thinking of ideas for classes, DAC works closely with the public schools and is aware of its competition so as not to duplicate offerings, according to Allen.
“We focus on providing unique opportunities to further develop students’ existing talents and/or learn new skills,” Allen said. “This keeps the DAC relevant.”
According to Allen, the most popular classes at DAC are cartooning, music composition, Broadway beat; musical theater, and a wreath-making workshop.
Carole Claps, who teaches and directs theater, said DAC is an organization she is “proud to be associated with.”
“That is because DAC is open to everyone — budding talent, experienced talent, those looking for a creative outlet in a nurturing and warm environment that is supported and run by professionals who care about what they do, do it well, and continue to make the Darien Arts Center the centerpiece of what a cultural arts center should always be about,” Claps said.
Claps is a former Darien resident who has been involved with DAC for almost three decades. She was director of Darien’s Got Talent and the DAC Cabaret, and master of ceremonies for DAC’s Evening Under the Stars gala. She now lives in Norwalk.
Meghan said she has met her closest friends at DAC. “We are a tight family here,” she said, adding that she knows a lot of her teachers at DAC personally.
“They all want us to do our best and everyone is so encouraging,” Meghan said. “That's how they push us to get better.”
For more information on the Darien Arts Center, visit darienarts.org/.