Great Barrington — After several years in operation, the popular Renaissance Arts Center is closing down. Owners Pat and Nick Navarino are moving south and going into what Pat calls “semi-retirement.”
In a letter sent to parents and friends of the center’s students last week, the Navarinos wrote, “We will relocate to Charleston, S.C., where we will enjoy a fabulous nightlife, walking on the beach and, most importantly, getting back to our painting and writing.”
“It’s an exciting time,” Pat Navarino said in an interview. “When you’ve had a career that fulfilled everything you dreamed of, it’s been wonderful. We’re leaving knowing we’ve done a fabulous job here. The children and parents have been a joy to work with.”
Pat said she and Nick want to be in someplace warmer, “but love the vibe of a city filled with culture” and with beaches nearby. They expect to travel to Charleston in November to look for a place to live.
“Nick is an avid writer who will go back to writing and maybe we’ll get a book out of this. Who knows?” the tireless Pat mused.
The Navarinos officially opened the center in its current location on Oct. 25, 2014, after spending years in the Milburn Township, New Jersey, school system where Pat was a visual arts and performance specialist while running her own art school, the first Renaissance Arts Center, in Short Hills, New Jersey. Setting up shop in Great Barrington was not something she ever imagined doing. Nick is a retired middle-school principal in Milburn.
But Pat recalled in an earlier interview that she and Nick found themselves spending many weekends in the Berkshires, visiting Nick’s eldest son Rob Navarino, owner of the Chef’s Shop in Great Barrington.
After discovering the music and dancing at the Egremont Inn and other places in the Berkshires, the couple began stretching their weekends from Thursday to Monday morning, eventually rising at 4 a.m. on Mondays to return to New Jersey.
So the Navarinos moved here permanently and opened a branch of the Renaissance Arts Center in some rooms over the Chef’s Shop, eventually buying 5,500 square feet of space in 2013 from Wingate Furniture on Route 7 in the Jenifer House Commons.
The mission of Renaissance was to create a place “where people of all ages commit to wellness, fitness and the visual and performing arts to reach their highest level of happiness,” said Pat.
Judging from conversations with parents who entrusted their children to the Navarinos and their faculty, it certainly looks like mission accomplished.
Amanda Hohman of Egremont has an 8-year-old daughter named Laynee who studied ballet and gymnastics at Renaissance. Hohman said Laynee, who started at Renaissance when she was 5, has had “nothing but a fabulous experience there.”
“Pat and Nick went above and beyond to help us out,” Hohman said. “They loved Laynee like she was their own grandchild … They would call me when she didn’t show up. And the teachers were all amazing.”
Elizabeth Greene’s daughter Ruby Jones, now 16 and interested in fashion design, has been a student, and has taken courses, at Renaissance for almost six years, dating back to its previous location.
“She took a lot different classes there,” Greene explained. “Everything from drawing to precious metals to clay, jewelry –even a class where they designed sneakers.”
Greene said, one day, Pat challenged Ruby “to think outside the box and use some unconventional material” to design a dress. So rather than use fabric, Ruby tried “doing something a little different:” she used newspaper – lots of it.
“That’s typical of Pat’s pedagogy,” Greene explained. “She was always challenging Ruby to stretch herself.”
Greene had high praise for the Renaissance faculty, whom she said the Navarinos allowed to do what interested them most, creating a situation where the ideas for teaching come from the teachers themselves. Combined with the comfortably open and well-lit space they created for the center, it was an experience that couldn’t be beat.
“We will miss them very much. They greeted everyone who walked in there with a big smile and tons of enthusiasm, making everyone feel like they were part of the family,” Greene said. “It’s going to be sad not to have them there.”
Pat says some of the Bob Watkins’ students will continue working with him after Renaissance. Some of the dance students will migrate to Berkshire Pulse in Housatonic. Pat added in the letter she sent to parents that “one of our biggest joys has been guiding students of all ages through the creative process and witnessing them grow into their potential.
“We are proud and heartened to know that Renaissance Arts training programs, particularly one-on-one portfolio development work with Pat, have helped students receive over $2 million in scholarship funding from top arts schools: Yale College, Parsons New School of Design, Pratt Institute, Savannah College of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Art and Design, Chicago Art Institute, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and others.”
The Navarinos say they will be back to the Berkshires for probably one month a year after they get settled in Charleston. But it won’t be all downtime for them.
“I have high energy, so I will only semi-retire,” Pat said.