The “art spirit” is alive and well at San Angelo’s Old Chicken Farm Art Center.
Not that it hasn’t been tested. In January 2019, Roger Allen, the center’s founder and guiding light, passed away from cancer. Then, last spring, the 3-acre collection of colorful artist studios drastically curtailed its operations in the face of the pandemic.
“COVID really knocked us down,” says Kassie Dilworth, the art center’s production manager, who carries on Allen’s ceramics style, making pieces for sale at the Chicken Farm’s Star Keeper Gallery.
The pandemic also forced Allen’s business partner, Jerry Warnell, to temporarily close the doors of the onsite Silo House Restaurant and Inn at the Art Center, a bed and breakfast.
Meanwhile, Dilworth and other artists expanded their online presence. “We grew our following in just a few months on Facebook by over 1,000 people; we were trying to reach them at home,” Dilworth says.
As the center eases back into its First Saturday events where artists showcase their wares, Allen’s emphasis on arts education will resume.
“We usually have on average seven or eight school tours every year, or we try to go to them if they can’t come to us,” Dilworth says. “Last year put a kink in it, but going forward, that kind of outreach will come back. We have several artists offering classes for every age group.
“This place was never about getting rich,” she adds. It was always about the community and the friendships. It was about making a place for artists to come to do their work around other artists and educate others.”
Now, the art center is getting back on its feet as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. The center’s annual open house will be in November.
Warnell said Allen’s legacy is felt across the San Angelo art scene, including events such as the San Angelo National Ceramics Competition, which Allen helped found at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. He was known for running the Chicken Farm “from his soul,” Warnell said.
“It was definitely part of him,” Warnell said. “The art spirit is still alive.”