Mission / History

The Cheltenham Center for the Arts is dedicated to making the arts an integral part of people's lives, as well as supporting the artists who live and work in the vicinity. We accomplish this by offering inspiring instruction and programming that both meets the interests, and broadens the horizons of our community.

In 1940, Gladys Wagner, Tobeleah Wechsler, and Helen Foster founded the Art Center with the goal of building a supportive community "for people to work together and talk together about art." The three women discovered the delicate landscape paintings of a local artist being sold for twenty-five and fifty cents in a drugstore on Central Avenue.

The artist was William T. Johanns, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, a tree surgeon and a long time resident of Cheltenham village. The story of William Johanns suggests that following a most unhappy love affair, he retired to his rented attic apartment to paint and became known as a recluse. When he died alone and unremarked, his paintings were given to the drugstore or anyone who wanted. Gladys realized that there were artists who were unaware of each other even in such a small community. The three women then resolved that no local artist should be forced to work in isolation.

They called a meeting on September 2, 1940, attended by eight people to plan an exhibition of the artists of Cheltenham Township in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of Cheltenham Village. The exhibition was held twelve days later on September 14, 1940. After several meetings, the Art Center was incorporated and officially born on November 21, 1940, a gestation period of just eighty days!

First Home
Support for the creation of the Art Center came from the Cheltenham Township Commissioners, who agreed to lease a historic building for a nominal fee. An old mill house at the corner of Ashbourne Road and Rowland Avenue, previously the Ames Shovel and Tool Company and historically part of a land grant from William Penn to his daughter, was the Art Center's first home. In January 1941, studios for painting, sculpture and clay were established among the debris of shovels and dirt. In 1942, ceramist and painter, Marion Kochey, rescued the Center from a pressing space crisis and began teaching children's and clay classes in her small stone house adjacent to the mill house.

Final Home
In 1953 CCA moved to its present home, the neighboring Cheltenham Elementary School. The building was built in 1883 as a replacement for the 1795 Milltown School, an expansion was done in 1893 and a second floor added in 1903. Named for pioneering children's educator George K. Heller, it was the first public school in Cheltenham township and the oldest school in the state of Pennsylvania in continuous use on the same site. In 2001, the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission honored the Center by granting the building a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Center Today: Education, Exhibitions and Theater Performances
Since its founding, CCA has served as a venue for high quality classes, exhibitions and theater programs promoting regional artists and showcasing the work of children, adults and outstanding faculty in our community. At CCA we believe that the arts can offer all ages a means to broaden their horizons, learn new skills and explore new ways of seeing the world. It is our goal to provide an environment conducive to teaching these skills and nurturing the creative process.

The Cheltenham Center for the Arts accepts all students regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.