Beth Valitski, founder of the Chrysalis Art Center in Chester Springs, PA, began giving art classes at the age of 9 in her backyard, gathering neighbors together that wanted to make art with her. Her mother, who later opened the Watery Eye art gallery onLong Beach Island, New Jersey, provided her with the materials and instructions that she needed and Beth began her journey which would eventually lead her to her own studio business.
She started an Art division of the local 4-H Club and began competing in the fair and giving speeches, continuing as the club’s adult leader throughout college. She obtained her teacher certification in Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) in New Jersey and a Bachelor’s Degree from Rutgers Main Campus. After teaching two years in NJ public schools, she moved to Pennsylvania, teaching in both public and private venues as the Horseshoe Pike Art Studio. Having also trained for Gifted Education, she taught Gifted Enrichment at all levels K-12, loving the ability to be creative in delivering services to students in their area of strength such as mural arts, creativity workshop, robotics, science research, language forensics, Shakespeare Theatre and Model United Nations. As Beth stated, she “looked for the passion in students,” mentoring kids of all ages to explore their own love of art.
Having completed 40+ years in Education, she retired from the West Chester School District to “develop programs at Chrysalis Art Center that allow for individuality and focus by interest, complex needs of children and hopefully reach out into the community to provide a place for emerging artists of all ages to find support”. Beth engaged Michael Gornee, a graphic zine writer* and artist, who had retail management experience, to become the Studio Manager. She also worked with a local company, Anxiety Terrarium. Both helped to develop the mission and the art center model. Beth opened the center in early 2020 (right before the COVID pandemic began), signing a two-year lease for space in a renovated stone horse barn. Through the years, she has cultivated a wide network of artists, fellow teachers, administrators, and former students as well as a strong reputation. This legacy is the foundation upon which she has built her business. In addition, Michael and others have been able to bring in many young artists and provide a current day perspective developing the Center’s social media outreach.
* Graphic novels are illustrated books in comic format; zines are shorter.
The Path to Success
Beth developed a business plan before starting her venture and used it as a guide during the startup phase. The center was planned to serve the community in several ways: giving art lessons, holding group classes for adults and children, renting art ‘pods’ and holding exhibits with local artists and dealers. However, COVID immediately interfered with most of these plans. Beth did not let that deter her but did need to adapt to the new circumstances. Fortunately, she had an ongoing relationship with the Downingtown Area Recreation Consortium and used that resource to provide added student revenue. She held indoor classes, following the protocols, and ran art camps beginning in the Summer of 2020. This enabled Beth to keep the business going during this very challenging period. Beth’s resilience, determination and natural partnering skills have helped her weather the COVID challenges and put her business on the path to long term success.
How SCORE Helped
Initially, Beth attended several SCORE workshops including the Business Planning series, an Entrepreneurial webinar and SCORE volunteer Frank Farmer’s How to Start and Operate a Business seminar. Dave Houseman, a SCORE volunteer and personal friend of Beth’s, helped her with her Business Plan and put her in touch with two SCORE mentors, Mike DiLeo and Dave Turner. Her SCORE mentors helped Beth by acting as a sounding board for her ongoing plans and recommending ways to increase business and continue on the path to profitability. They also introduced Beth to SCORE Subject Matter Experts: Maria Smith to help her with marketing plans and brand identity and Len Feehan to provide guidance on website effectiveness. In addition, MIke and Dave helped Beth navigate the Paycheck Protection Program loan process to keep her workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis, prepare for rent negotiations and work on time and resource management.
Today, Chrysalis Art Center offers 30 different classes for adults and children. Beth recently renewed her lease and has set new business targets to increase revenue. She has put a great deal of effort into broadening her market, such as 1) collaborating with a therapy professional, Stephanie Pirozzi, who bridges art and therapy; 2) hiring Art Works – an initiative that provides support for art businesses;* 3) housing Shaype Studios to reach both seniors and special needs adults in the community; and 4) adding Friday night teen nights. She wants to “create a safe place for teenagers to go to explore their artistic talents,” something she felt was missing in the community. An early success occurred when a former student of hers’ brought his elementary school daughter in for an art class because he wanted his daughter to share the experience he had had with Beth years ago. Much of her business comes in by ‘word of mouth’ with people telling their friends. Beth is well positioned for continued growth and valued impact on the local art scene.
Paying it Forward
Beth has advice for people considering a new business venture:
- “Be flexible and willing to pivot.”
- “Analyze what is working and what’s not. If not, understand why it’s not working.”
- “Ask your customers for feedback.”
*Chrysalis Art Center is listed on its ‘Art Hub’ as a resource for artists.