TORRINGTON — Judy McElhone, founder of Five Points Gallery, had a hard time containing her enthusiasm after the opening of the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts.

“I think people are excited,” she said, as she described the gallery’s plans for the center at the former University of Connecticut Torrington campus. “We’re excited for the potential of this amazing place.”

Five Points recently purchased the 90-acre property, including its buildings, and marked the purchase with a celebratory press conference this week. Guests at this week’s opening included Mayor Elinor Carbone, the gallery board and new staff members, state representatives and other community leaders.

Since June 30, the gallery and arts center volunteers and board members have been hard at work sprucing up the grounds and making their way through the former educational spaces.

“There’s so much to do,” McElhone said. “Last Saturday there were three volunteers working there — the place hadn’t been weeded for quite a while and they did all around the building in one day. Another staff member put new plants on the patio. The work people are putting in is just incredible.

“I think because of the pandemic, our group has been waiting for something to do, something positive,” she said. “It’s a huge operation, what we’re planning to do, and it won’t happen overnight in the best of circumstances. But we will come out of this pandemic. The arts center is a promise of hope. It’s a promise for the future.”

In 2018, the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts submitted a letter of interest to purchase the UConn campus on University Drive, and the transaction was completed on June 30. “The grand vision of creating a world-class contemporary art center in the hills of Northwest Connecticut is officially underway,” said Operations Director Pam McCann.

The newly acquired facility includes a 30,000 square-foot-building on 90 acres. Five Points plans to create a multilevel visual arts center and adjacent art park. The group plans to use the 220-seat auditorium for programs and add a cafe, artists’ residences and outdoor classrooms for children.

When it’s up and running, McElhone said, the center is expected to generate 20 new full-time positions and 15 part-time teaching and staff positions.

“There are two parts to this project,” McElhone said. “First, there’s a think tank, where artists can explore and work and experiment, with a focus on sustainability and agriculture. The second part is for the community, for kids and seniors and anyone in between. Anyone can make art, and that’s what we’re going to provide. Art can help kids, educationally, but it’s also healing. Our society’s going to need that. Sometimes, we think of art as just a commodity, but it’s far more than that.”

“We support the plan,” said Carbone, adding that she views the property purchase as a “public-private partnership to help move the project toward the vision ... It only works if they have access to the acreage.”

Carbone said the land on which the campus was built was a gift to the city from the estate of Julia Booker Thompson in the 1960s. The endowment required that the land be used for education.

Now that the purchase is official, fundraising will continue, McElhone said. In 2018, supporters said they had already raised $500,000 of the $1.8 million required to purchase the land.

“We’ve been doing quiet fundraising since we first put in our letter of interest (with the state),” McElhone said. “We’ll start a major fundraising campaign now. We’ve raised money with grants and pledges from area banks, and we also received a tremendous anonymous donation to help us get started.”

Actor Kevin Bacon, who has a home in Litchfield County, is chairman of the arts center’s fundraising committee. “He’s very enthusiastic about it,” McElhone said. “We also learned recently that we have a grant for a development director position.”

The center has also received donation pledges from area banks, including Torrington Savings Bank, Northwest Connecticut Bank, Thomaston Savings Bank, Union Savings Bank and Litchfield Bancorp, as well as the local investment firm, Brooks, Todd & McNeil.

“And there are many others who are coming forward to support us,” McElhone said.

The organization’s immediate goal is to create a safe, welcoming outdoor space for the community of artists, friends, neighbors and visitors, McElhone said. Plein-air painting, drawing marathons, concerts and outdoor movies, yoga classes and other outdoor activities are just some of the plans ahead. The main campus building will be renovated to include artists’ work spaces for painting, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, labs for digital art and photography, and a courtyard garden.

“We want people to be able to engage in the land here,” McElhone said. “It’s such a beautiful property. Anything that can be done safely outdoors, it will happen.”

Five Points has a partnership with the University of Hartford’s Hartford Art School at Five Points Gallery downtown, where former students work and develop projects in what’s known as the Launchpad. McElhone stressed that the gallery and the annex, which are managed by the Launchpad artists, are staying where they are.

“We’re having conversations with other colleges, not only in Connecticut, but from other states, to involve more young artists,” she said. “The Launchpad artists rent shared studios above the gallery and volunteer six hours of their time each month. They’ll continue to do that here and at the arts center. They’ll have access to the studios, and multidisciplinary maker spaces.”

Another aspect of the visual arts center is a print shop, which is needed for artists in the area, McElhone said. Robert Dente, a painter, sculptor and graphic artist who died in 2017 at his home in West Hartford, left his entire print shop to the arts center.

“The Bob Dente print shop will be well-used,” McElhone said. “People travel all across the state to find a good print studio, and for darkrooms, to produce their work. That’s a huge asset to the center.”

The visual arts center, McElhone said, is an extension of the success of the Five Points vision, which has drawn artists from around the state as well as Europe and Asia to exhibit their work. “There are some 300 artists waiting for professional shows in Torrington,” she said. “Five Points has received submissions from around the world — Russia, China, Greece, Israel, Canada .. I don’t think people realize that. The presence of artists from such a wide scale builds community and economic development.”

Building community resources and getting people involved in the vision of the arts center, she said, is a work in progress. “It will grow with excellence,” McElhone said. “Community art is terribly important. Art is relevant to everyday life.”

“It’s important to say right now that the downtown and cultural nonprofits are all working so well together, and that they are all part of this center,” she said. “We’re not in competition with anyone; we all want to work together.”

For more information, email jmcelhone@fivepointsgallery.org or call 860-618-7222.