Jan Whitted, owner
The chartreuse and magenta letterforms of the word “Artbeat” jump out at you as you approach this art store/studio located a few doors down from the Capitol Theatre. Set against a vibrant blue exterior façade, these words call you in to indulge in some creative fun.
During the warmer months, an 8-foot high yellow giraffe découpaged with green, blue, and red patterning greets you at the entrance, while a chair painted to look like a butterfly is positioned outside inviting you to take a break. This makes you stop and take a look. In the winter, the windows are filled with project ideas, completed pieces, or simply art materials available to buy.
When Artbeat started, it was a rarity – not only a store, but a one of a kind walk-in art studio offering a variety of different projects that could be created with free-form expression– not just in one prescribed way. The concept has flourished though, with customers coming from all parts of Greater Boston as well as down the street. In 2016, Artbeat celebrated its 20th anniversary with a series of festive events.
Jan Whitted, the dynamic owner and founder of this “creativity” store, left a career as director of telecommunications at a university to open her storefront experiment. Artbeat grew out of Jan’s desire to develop a space where people could create a small piece of art without signing up for series of classes or have to invest in buying in too many materials. As she says: “My idea was, let’s have something at YOUR convenience. Come anytime, with anyone. Our customers are definitely families–mothers with young kids, preschool, elementary school kids, teenagers, adults. What’s interesting is all of our activities are adaptable to all ages.”
When you enter the space, the front part of the store has inspiring books, colorful art supplies, and ingenious craft kits to take home. It is an explosion of colors, textures, patterns. Knitting and weaving options line one shelf, while painting supplies occupy another. Easter egg dyes appear in the spring and Halloween- themed masks and supplies for Day of the Dead sugar skulls fill the shelves in the fall.
When Jan’s son was young, she took him to a trade show with her and they both enjoyed doing the sand art available there. Returning home inspired, Jan decided to design her own sand painting boards for Artbeat – mandalas for adults, simpler patterns for the younger ages. It’s a very tactile experience. She prides herself in having made the Artbeat board designs more open-ended – studio visitors can employ a variety of techniques to make the same board look completely different. Jan believes in respect for materials and uses only natural materials; she recycles everything possible, including tiny bits of paper, felt, and sand.
The studio space is tucked away in the back of the store, but you can’t miss the huge “STUDIO” sign on the wall above a row of tables inviting you to take a seat. Neatly labeled jars of gleaming beads and mosaic tiles stand to attention on one side, while colorful tubes and bottles of paint line up below them. 3D letterforms, boxes and cardboard animals wait to be painted or découpaged. Small bins of items made from natural wood or recycled paper are displayed at a child’s browsing level so kids can reach them easily. You might encounter a dad and two kids working silently away back here, entirely focused on a project, or a more rambunctious group of young friends gathered for a birthday party.
Jan’s philosophy is simple: “There is a different kind of art for every kind of person there is in the world. You should try something different, just try it. Because by doing that, you open yourself up to change. And when you open yourself up to change in one area, who knows what can happen to your life?”
Jan feels that Arlington today is a lot more like Cambridge, with a lively international community. Artbeat, along with the other Capitol Square businesses, offers customers a rich, unique, and personalized shopping experience. When families discover Artbeat they come frequently over the years. She remembers one customer coming in with her sons for sand art when they were little. This woman’s son is now in medical school and she still comes to Artbeat before Christmas to buy the sand art supplies to send him. He has told her “Christmas would not be Christmas without sand art!”
I asked Jan what she thought of the East Arlington Stories project: “I have always found that public art is so important. Coming across something...you have to interact with it, find something, answer questions. That is so exciting. Art adds so much to community and helps people connect with each other in so many different ways.”
– Nilou Moochhala, 2016