The Middletown Free Center, a haven of expression through art

MIDDLETOWN – A grandmother and her grandson walk through the garage door of a warehouse, tucked under the Arrigoni Bridge in the north of town.

The sun shines through the grille of tall misty glass windows as the couple are greeted by the masked, smiling face of Kerry Kincy, founder of Free center, located at the intersection of art, culture and community organization.

The goal of Free Center is to act as a vehicle to uplift the intentions and actions of residents, in accordance with its mission.

The two seemed at ease at 52 N. Main St., the former site of Gorilla Graphics. Exposed beams, antique furniture and daring artwork make it a place that invites community members to contribute their unique talents, artistic expressions and characters.

“Come in, my nice boy! Said Kincy, who nodded to the duo. The grandson worked on painting the panels for her to display at an upcoming farmers’ market. Her creation is the next addition to Kincy’s vision for space.

“Free Center is all about trying to connect everyone,” Kincy said. “Everyone wins when something happens. “

Free Center provides a space for everyone to come together, share art, play and reflect – for free. Community members can reserve the space or just walk around.

It’s not Connecticut’s first free center. Richard Hollant, founder of the Free Center in Hartford, said he had always had an “affinity” for Middletown and its possibilities. It took Kincy to bring them to life.

Hollant learned on social media about Kincy’s idea to bring a space for healing and creation to Middletown. In May, he decided to visit.

“In the midst of a pandemic, I decided to go see what was going on in Middletown,” Hollant said. “Not necessarily by thinking it would be another free center – just by sustaining a like-minded spirit.”

Every idea Kincy shared about his business aligned with the goals of the Free Center. She seeks to create a place for inclusiveness, exposure and access. It’s designed as a place where people are free to be themselves, she said.

“It wasn’t for me,” Kincy said. “It was for the community. And hearing that Richard had sort of started the ball rolling with that already, I said, “How do I expand that here?” “”

Kincy, who owned the unique shop Butter Curated Exchanged Goods, in lower Washington Street, has invested a lot of its own money into starting the Free Center. Soon people started donating money to help him install drywall and other construction costs.

Due to the pandemic, programming is limited. There is a stage for concerts, like Afro-pop. Instead of being in front of a bustling crowd, these are streamed live on Zoom. Kincy always invites people to come with masks to share their art and feelings related to the pandemic.

“People come in and they fill the space with their presents,” Kincy said.

Hollant pointed out that while there may be other places related to art or expression, they do charge a fee. “The cost of entry to other places prohibits community members from seeing a celebration of the things they believe in,” he said.

The Free Center is also designed as a place where community members can stand up for the things they believe in, Kincy said. She hopes people bring artwork and photos from the final months of the pandemic, including protest panels, to adorn the mostly empty walls.

“There are different ways people can make calls to action,” Kincy said. “And I salute all of those. But, for me, I want to provide that space to give that voice.

With the blank walls, the large open area upstairs is unfinished. There are a few chairs up there, but Kincy is waiting for the community to bring in ideas and suggestions for what she can become.

“As we grow and evolve, the space above it will also evolve,” Kincy said.

Kincy hopes the Free Center can heal a population reeling from two pandemics – COVID-19 and racism – as a place for reflection, sharing and learning.

Establishing the center was a healing for Kincy, who was unable to do her work as an expressive arts practitioner and community psychology consultant to organizations, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Without her usual purpose, she found herself eager to exchange ideas and connect with others.

“I realized this was essential for me, as well as for those I worked with,” Kincy said. “There is sharing, there is touch, and I was unable to do that. I was able to come here, craft it, create it and build it for the communities I serve, which has become its own healing for me.

She encourages anyone with any artwork or photos she created during the pandemic or for racial justice protests to submit their designs through the website at For more information, see the Free Center on Facebook, call 860-992-8665 or email [email protected]

About Thomas Thorton

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