When Sea Cliff resident Tracy Warzer opened the Creative Arts Studio on Sea Cliff Avenue in 2005, she wanted to bring the community together to celebrate the opportunities that art presented to people of all ages. Over its 15-year run in the village, she and many others said, the studio, which closed late last month, did just that.
Warzer, 62, said the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for her to host art classes, shows and gallery openings, which were the studio’s main source of income.
A licensed art therapist and art therapy intern supervisor at LIU Post, Warzer opened her first Creative Arts Studio on Robert Place in Glen Head in 2002. It was in an industrial complex, and she wanted to expand to an area where it would have its own home. The space in Sea Cliff, she said, was ideal.
“Sea Cliff was perfect because [it’s] a community that appreciates the arts,” Warzer said. “It’s like everyone who lives here is drawn to Sea Cliff because it’s a community that places value on the arts in everyday life. It creates a vitality that is essential.”
The studio has hosted a variety of events over the years, including open mic shows and theater classes. But Warzer said that art education classes are among her favorites. She has worked with people of all ages, from children to seniors, helping them learn about the arts and discover what they were capable of, whether it was a piece of art or a journey of self-discovery. Watching people become interested in art because of her work is what she finds most joyful, she said.
“It couldn’t be more satisfying,” Warzer said. “It just lit me up light a light bulb when I saw that process taking place, because it was something that happened in people where they felt uplifted — they felt this was something they now understood, that they had another tool in their toolkit and they had something else they could do to express themselves.”
Her father, Herb Arnold, a sculptor who specialized in turning discarded items into art, nurtured her passion for art, she said. His concept was to transform something that was cast off as a piece of junk into art. She said she always wanted to be an artist like her father and to make an impact on people’s lives, which she said she did first through art therapy, and then through her work at the studio.
For most of its life, Warzer said, she was the only person who worked there consistently, although she had sub-tenants and lots of volunteers helping her through the years. Andrea DiFebbo, who grew up in Sea Cliff, volunteered at the studio as a teenager between 2004 and 2010. It was short walk from her house, she said, and she was drawn to it because she had always loved art, and it provided an outlet for her artistic expression.
DiFebbo is now an elementary school art teacher in Lynn, Mass., a career choice that was heavily influenced by watching Warzer interacting with her students and bringing out the best in them. “She has just a way with people and this natural light that she exudes, and she was always very direct, encouraging and supportive,” DiFebbo said. “I really admired how she was doing something that was not only something that she wanted to do, but something that benefited other people — I thought that was really amazing. I didn’t know anyone else at the time who was doing something like that.”
Laura Waldman worked as Warzer’s assistant as a North Shore High School junior in 2002, she said, helping set up classes and assisting students with their projects. She recalled the joy of watching children run up to their parents at the end of class to show off the work they had created.
“It was always very sweet,” Waldman said. “It was a very welcoming environment. Tracy was always very mindful of including everyone and celebrating the differences in people’s work. She really understood what it meant for the kids to create these pieces of art.”
The Creative Arts Studio was also a place for professional artists to display their work. Sea Cliff resident Rebecca Baadarani said she spent most of her photography career working in the entertainment industry, although she still took her own photos, which could be found in small businesses in the area.
Baadarani said that Warzer offered her the chance to present her first photography show in March 2019. The warm reception from community members who came to see her work, Baadarani said, made it an unforgettable experience.
“The physical and the emotional and the reaction from people — I was, on every level, overjoyed,” Baadarani said. “To be recognized and acknowledged in that way, and they reacted to it, it was a wonderful experience to have that opportunity, which I will remember and cherish forever.”
No matter the circumstances in which they experienced the studio, many who found themselves there agree that Warzer accomplished her mission of bringing the community together through art.
“I think they will remember this unbelievable, magical place that’s filled with light and love,” Baadarani said. “I think they’ll always kind of feel that there … They will miss gathering in a space where anything can happen.”
“People found strength in sharing of themselves at the studio, experiencing the arts and taking that risk to be themselves and be changed by it in all good ways, so that’s what my takeaway is,” Warzer said. “My greatest satisfaction is that we all made this happen together, and it was a work of heart.”