Cassina Farley, Director, and Martha Kelly, President of the Board for PCAA, stand by the Arts Center building that Molly Phinny has recently donated to the Arts Association. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Molly Phinny, who has owned the Patagonia Community Arts Center building at 304 Naugle Ave. since the 1990s, recently gifted the home of the Arts Center to the Patagonia Community Arts Association, a nonprofit organization which she founded with her friend Gail Jacobson in 1999.  

Phinny, who at that time was living in Michigan, spent a week at the Circle Z Ranch and fell in love with the Patagonia area. She decided to live part-time in Patagonia and combine her passion for volunteerism and the arts, founding the Patagonia Community Arts Association (PCAA) to provide classes, workshops and open studios for children and adults, with a focus on children. 

The Naugle Ave. building she bought to house the new PCAA was originally the East Side Garage, a gas station, back in the early 1900s. Over the years, the building has been used at different times as a beauty salon and a bank. During its time as a bank, “burglar proof” windows and doors were installed. According to Director Cassina Farley, a few years ago a wannabe thief tried to break in, using every tool and device he could find to break down the door. He failed, leaving behind a pile of useless tools and trash. 

 The Arts Center is centrally located and spacious. In addition to the studio spaces, the Tin Shed theater with 99 comfortable seats is the venue for performances by local theater groups, and youth club theater, the longest running program at the Center. 

A 23-foot movie screen was added in 2015, which has enabled the Center to offer classic films, locally made documentaries, mainstream indie films and documentaries, and to partner with the Royal Opera House in London to show prerecorded operas and ballets, thanks to local sponsors.  

New challenges and opportunities lie ahead. Farley noted that now the financial responsibilities of maintenance, insurance, utility bills etc. will increase. “We have lived a charmed life for the last 20 years with Molly​ handling the brunt of the building costs,” she said. Farley is confident the challenge will be met with the help of the greater community. “Our needs change, but the mission will stay the same.” 

Currently, 200 or more children are involved in programs as diverse as ‘Art Makers’ for kids ages 5 – 12, and the summer art camp offering drama, music, and visual arts. Classes are taught by working artists. 

Board President Martha Kelly has been teaching pottery and ceramics at the Center since its inception. She has been involved in the Center for so long that she is now teaching the grandchildren of some of her original students.  

The art curriculum for both the Patagonia School District and the Montessori School is contracted to PCAA. Other collaborations include the Patagonia Library, Patagonia Regional Times, Borderlands Restoration, the Santa Cruz Foundation for the Performing Arts, the Paton Center, the Patagonia Museum, and the Lochiel School, where high school artists will paint a mural later this month.  

In addition, the PCAA partners with the Santa Cruz Training Programs, which provides educational programs for children and adults with disabilities. A virtual Art Exhibit, “We Are Artists” is an example of the talent of the participants of the SC Training Programs and one of which the Creative Arts Center is very proud. PCAA also partners with the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation, and the Hilltop Art  Gallery.

When the pandemic hit, the Art Center faced new challenges.Farley spent most of the school lockdown learning about and designing an on-line art curriculum. Last June’s summer camp was so popular that they had to turn kids away. Plans for this year’s camp are underway. Getting kids away from their computer screens and back to hands-on participation and expression is the newest goal. 

Farley expressed her gratitude for the enormous gift Phinny has bestowed upon PCAA and feels honored that she feels enough confidence in the organzation to let it go. When Phinny was asked why she had decided this is a good time to give the building to PCAA. She replied, “Founding an organization is like giving birth to a child. You nurture it, take care of it, and watch it grow. Then when it becomes strong and independent, it is time to let it go its own way, spread its wings and fly.”