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United Way of Lancaster County


West Art pursues vision of community space for ‘all things art’

West Art founders Josh Gibbel, left, and Rufus Deakin speak the unveiling of a mural by McCaskey High School students at the arts & community center on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. (Photo: Brian Nguyen | SDL)

Josh Gibbel, a Lancaster County native, and Rufus Deakin, born and raised in London, first met at a backyard concert Gibbel had hosted to get to know his neighbors. Deakin, new to the area at the time, had connected with Gibbel through their shared love of music and renovating homes. The two neighbors would often chat about shared interests over their fence in the backyard.

That friendship led to the creation of West Art Community Center at the former St. Peter’s United Church of Christ.

The venue at 816 Buchanan Ave. in Lancaster is billed as a “living room for Lancaster and a sanctuary for all things art.” It has already hosted a variety of cultural and community events in its first year and much more is planned.

West Art Community Center, 816 Buchanan Ave., Lancaster. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

When the church went on the market, Deakin and Gibbel talked about giving the space a second life.

Moving forward with the idea, they toured the building and got the project off the ground with the help of several investors. Deakin and Gibbel submitted an offer to purchase the building on Nov. 18, 2022. Their offer was accepted six days later, and they received the keys to the building on March 31, 2023.

West Art consists of four spaces: City Hall, the Sanctuary, the Portal, and the Elbow Room. The two main rooms, City Hall and Sanctuary, have hosted plays, workshops, weddings, parties, conferences, poetry slams and concerts. The Portal and Elbow Room are for smaller gatherings, private parties and other community centered activities.

The Sanctuary at West Art. (Source: Provided)

Performances featured at the venue include singer/songwriters and musicians such as Kassa Overall (featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk); and plays put on by Lancaster Shakespeare Theatre (formerly the People’s Shakespeare Project) — “Cymbeline” in February and “Fool-ish,” a Shakespeare-themed play by the group’s founder, Laura Howell, staged earlier this month.

Community-focused offerings include Wellness Wednesdays: A yoga class at 5:30 p.m., jazz dancing at 6:45 p.m., and one-to-one noncontact kickboxing at 8 p.m. All are open to the public regardless of expertise level and are pay-what-you-can.

For more information

To learn more about West Art Community Center and the activities there, visit its online events calendar, or sign up for its email newsletter. You can also follow West Art on Facebook and Instagram.

Selected upcoming events include a philosophy discussion on Saturday, April 20; a concert featuring Franklin & Marshall College student bands The Human Cosmos, The Ratskis and Test Drive on Sunday, April 21; and a free Earth Day community potluck on Monday, April 22.

Other reoccurring events include “Spill,” an LGBTQ+ social hangout one Tuesday a month, as well as community yoga every Sunday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

A West Art yoga class. (Source: Provided)

After a year of being at West Art, Deakin and Gibbel have been able to gain a clearer vision for programming and events based on the interests and needs of the community. With a project like this, the more flexibility you can have, the better, Deakin said.

They hope West Art can be a space where people “can contribute ideas and find ways to safely bring them to life,” Gibbel said.

They to create additional opportunities for storytelling, songwriting circles, and community art classes. A café or “coffee bar” is in the works, coming “soon-ish” (Gibbel’s term) in the spring.

In March, Gibbel and Deakin collaborated with the School District of Lancaster to install a mural outside the West Art building. McCaskey High School students created a mosaic of self-portraits in various art styles. A musical concert followed the art installation.

Renovations are ongoing. “We wanted to find the balance of embracing the history of the building as a church” while giving it their own style and beautifying the outdoor space, Gibbel said.

(Photos: Brian Nguyen | SDL)