- The GoggleWorks arts complex in Reading, Pa., encompasses six buildings that house studios, offices and classrooms for instruction in everything from clay to fiber to dance.
The dry-erase board outside Susan Biebuyck’s studio in the GoggleWorks arts complex reads, “Don’t feed the artists.” The colorful scrawl is a joke, but the sentiment feels exactly right. Walking through the rabbit’s warren of glass-fronted studios feels voyeuristic. But this is more than observing artists in their natural habitats— the open-door policy at GoggleWorks encourages interaction with visitors. They may hang back at first, but eventually the curious cross the threshold.
This is exactly what executive director Diane LaBelle had in mind when she helped plan the arts center, located in Reading, Pa., about an hour northwest of Philadelphia. “We try to make art as accessible as possible,” she says. “You can’t be elitist about it.” She’s sitting in the former reception area of the late 19th-century eyeglass factory that’s now home to GoggleWorks. (In the 1920s, the company began manufacturing goggles for aviators and coal miners.) “If people learn about and experience art, they start to buy it,” she adds. “They start to enjoy it in a different way.”
LaBelle, an architect and weaver with nearly 20 years of experience in nonprofit administration, was heading the Banana Factory, an arts center in Bethlehem, Pa., when she met Reading native Albert Boscov. Impressed with the turnout during one of her First Friday events, the retired businessman asked for LaBelle’s assessment of a vacant factory building in Reading. They toured the facility with businessman Marlin Miller and Reading mayor Tom McMahon, who had brainstormed with Boscov about opening an arts center to help revitalize the downtown area.
For more of “See for Yourself” pick up the August 2008 issue of AmericanStyle today!