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Article Published July 3, 2018
Denise Isaac: A Model Volunteer for GAC
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

If the creative minds at Guilford Art Center (GAC) could craft a model volunteer to help the non-profit inspire and promote community participation in the visual arts, they’d design someone just like Denise Isaac.

A Branford resident of 11 years, Denise has lived in several different parts of the country and has always gravitated toward assisting art programs, from volunteering at art museums to supporting local events.

“Wherever I go, I seek out places that are art centers or museums,” says Denise. “I’m an appreciator, I’m a dabbler, I’ve taken art history classes [and] in the past I’ve also done a number of things in the arts and crafts type of world.”

Denise had barely unpacked her bags in her new Branford home before she started volunteering with GAC.

“It was serendipity, actually,” says Denise. “I was moving here and I was given the name of someone to help me look for an apartment, and as we got to know each other, he knew I had an interest in the arts. He gave me a name to contact at GAC.”

Denise started out volunteering as a shop assistant with Artistry (GAC’s annual holiday shop sale) and has been involved in supporting GAC efforts, programs, and events as a volunteer ever since. For example, from Friday to Sunday, July 13 to 15, she’ll be volunteering at GAC’s 61st Expo on the Guilford Green. The show puts works from 180 nationally recognized craft artists on display and draws thousands of attendees.

“I pretty much have done a little bit of everything. Volunteers are a key here,” says Denise. “It’s very important, in terms of all the different events, to be able to come and help, and they’re more than willing to. I have to say, over these past number of years, I’ve met some wonderful people and formed some great friendships.”

Right now, Denise is having fun as a member of a committee helping GAC gear up for its Seaside Benefit Party, a classic outdoor summer party for the shoreline set for Friday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Owenego Beach & Tennis Club in Branford. Proceeds will benefit GAC educational and community outreach programs.

The Owenego’s shoreline locale will be the ideal setting for a party where guests can spend a summer evening playing lawn games and enjoying a buffet dinner, unlimited beer and wine (cocktails for purchase), live music by local band One & Done, and bidding on the night’s live and silent auctions.

“I think it will be a fun party,” says Denise. “It’s also a great way for people who maybe don’t come to our events at the center in Guilford, or who don’t come to the shop or take classes, to still participate. By coming to this party, it would be a wonderful way for them to support the arts in this area. And everyone likes a summer party!”

One of the highlights of the night will be the chance to bid on some prime silent auction items, many of them contributed thanks to Denise’s volunteer efforts. In fact, the folks at GAC consider Denise a wiz at gathering donated items. She attributes her success to her belief that every business, individual, or organization she contacts will want to help GAC.

“I think that the key is that you absolutely believe in the place that you are supporting. I feel the arts are so important to any community,” says Denise. “When I’ve gone out to solicit for silent auction items, very few people have said, ‘No.’ And my philosophy is, if they say no, they say no. You approach them in a nice way, give them the literature, and say, ‘Thank you for considering us.’ Many of them will thank me for contacting them, even if they can’t participate. And a lot of them will call me back and say, ‘We have an item for you, come pick it up!’ It feels wonderful.”

Denise also thanks sponsoring organizations that step up to contribute to events and programs of GAC. She hopes the community will support sponsors such as those being recognized on posters and in publicity programs promoting the Seaside Benefit Party.

“We couldn’t do it without their support. They have our gratitude. I think it’s really important for people to recognize those names on that literature. I’m also happy to say I’ve seen the list of sponsors of our programs grow over the years. That’s a wonderful thing,” says Denise.

As someone who came to the shoreline as a new resident and found GAC, Denise says GAC, which grew from a local artisans craft exhibit on the Guilford Green in 1957 and was first incorporated as GAC in 1967, should not be taken for granted.

With its campus at 411 Church Street, GAC is a comprehensive arts organization. The school serves more than 2,000 students annually (pre-school through senior citizens) in classes including ceramics, jewelry, metalsmithing, weaving, glass, drawing and painting, blacksmithing, and stone carving. Handmade American fine crafts are sold year-round at the Shop at GAC, with inventory ballooning to pieces from more than 300 artisans during the annual Artistry Holiday Sale. GAC is also home to the Mill Gallery, one of the largest public exhibition spaces between New Haven and Old Lyme. Open seven days a week, free of charge, Mill Gallery hosts ever-changing exhibits of contemporary American art in all media.

“The Mill Gallery is just a treasure,” says Denise. “I think everything about GAC is just very, very special. This was started back in 1967, and I think for an establishment to have been here for all those years, and to evolve and thrive, it’s doing something right.”

Denise says her volunteer time and effort has been rewarded, many times over, by the chance to be connected with an worthwhile organization she’s happy to serve.

“The staff and volunteers are people who are committed and have an interest in the arts, and want to help promote that, not just in Guilford, but certainly along the shoreline and beyond. You sort of get hooked on that.”

Another such organization that has drawn Denise’s support and volunteer support is the League of Women Voters of the East Shore, which serves Branford, Guilford, Madison, and North Branford. Denise has served on its board for many years.

Making connections through volunteering has brought friendships and fulfillment to her life while helping worthwhile causes, she adds.

“I love what I do. I get to see things and experience things, but also help by giving back,” says Denise. “If you look at how many total hours volunteers have given to organizations, and then put that into what the cost would be to hire people, it can be quite amazing. So this is quite a precious commodity. And non-profits need good volunteers and people to come on board and to help. I know GAC is certainly very appreciative of their volunteers here.”


GAC’s Seaside Benefit Party is Friday, July 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Owenego Beach & Tennis Club in Branford, CT, 40 Linden Avenue. Branford. Tickets, $100 per person, can be purchased at or by calling 203-453-5947. Proceeds benefit non-profit GAC’s educational and community outreach programs. To donate items to the evening’s Silent Auction, call 203-453-5947.