Jocelyn Schaffer ’81, left, and Donna Weng Friedman ’80.
Courtesy of Jocelyn Schaffer ’81
At the Jamestown Arts Center, locals both create and experience art

Jocelyn Schaffer ’81 spent most of her life working in film. One day, because of her artistic pursuits, she found herself in an old boat repair building in her town of Jamestown, Rhode Island. She and a group of 20 other artists and art enthusiasts had put down their paintbrushes and picked up some sledgehammers. 

The team was renovating the site they had recently purchased to build the Jamestown Arts Center. It was 2010, and the arts center was just a vision. But 14 years later, Schaffer and her fellow art pioneers have seen their dream provide a space of inspiration for themselves and other artists in the community. 

Schaffer grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, surrounded by art. Her mom was a painter who ran a gallery. “I remember wanting to go to art school, and I realized it would take the fun out of it,” Schaffer says. 

At Princeton, Schaffer majored in sociology and also took some visual arts classes. After graduating, she began building a career in film, working in interstitial programming (the content such as music videos and short films between the main shows) at HBO and as a production assistant and later production coordinator with several independent filmmakers. Today, Schaffer does film programming for the Manhattan Short film festival and is the Jamestown Arts Center’s film committee chair.

When Schaffer moved to Jamestown, Rhode Island, nearly 25 years ago, she immediately took advantage of the thriving art scene and joined the Conanicut Island Art Association. There Schaffer and six other members started discussing their desire for a physical space where local artists could gather and showcase their work. 

This fledgling group began the arduous process of raising funds and finding a location. Once the boat repair house opened up, and they were able to secure a loan, the group needed to renovate and get the arts center off the ground. 

“The base of it was a group of really dedicated people who believed in this,” Schaffer says. All of the original founders were volunteers, and they remained the only staff for the first year after the center opened in 2011.

As chair of the film committee, Schaffer draws on her professional expertise. She was a judge for the Rhode Island International Film Festival and started a popular monthly screening of short films from the festival at the Jamestown Arts Center. She helps judge the Manhattan Short and brings those films to the center each fall. 

Donna Weng Friedman ’80, who recently screened her film Never Fade Away at the Jamestown Arts Center, called the space “truly a dream come true for this wonderful community.” She wrote to PAW: “And Jocelyn was one of the original dreamers whose dedication and hard work made this happen!”

Through the Jamestown Arts Center, community members have a space to both enjoy and discover art. Recently, Schaffer spoke with a woman who has been involved in the center for several years as a supporter of the arts but not an artist herself. “The other day we were talking and she had taken a class and realized, ‘Oh, I am an artist,’” Schaffer says.

After years of hard work, the founders see the center having an impact on the community. “It’s booming now, so it’s so satisfying when something goes from idea to actuality,” Schaffer says.