Adapting to change … preserving the past
By Pat Wilson
Courtesy of The Central Virginian Online, January 20 , 2005
Pam Stone and Ginna Cullen (l-r), members of the Louisa Downtown Development Corporation Board of Directors, discuss fund-raising strategies with Shirley Stewart, a grant writer and consultant.
The 11-member board of the Louisa Downtown Development Corporation has set those words as its mission as the non-profit group initiates fund-raising activities for the future Community Arts Center and Louisa Town Hall. The focus will center on the facilities for the advancement of cultural projects and programs.
Although private fund-raising efforts are just getting underway, the LDDC has received $66,000 in donations earmarked for the arts center with close to $1 million additional already requested in grant applications.
Renovations and improvements to the former school on Fredericksburg Avenue and its 12.4-acre site will not only provide adequate office space for the growing town, but also permit a location for entertainment and educational activities, as well as recreational facilities, for the entire community.
“The whole concept behind the project, which the LDDC is now spearheading, is the first step in the total revitalization of the entire town.
“We see the arts center and the new town hall as the crown jewel of the project,” said Mayor Charles Rosson. “Other aspects will be built off it, like improving the look and feel of the town.”
Safety features, like wider sidewalks with easier pedestrian movement across intersections, combined with the improved appearance after completion of burying utility lines, period lighting and landscaping, will lead to business growth and tourism, according to Rosson. An attractive setting and cultural activities will also draw residents and visitors, according to the mayor.
“In particular, the arts center is critical to the success of building community, not only within the town but throughout the community,” said Rosson. “The structure will serve people living at Lake Anna just as well as those living in Gum Springs or the town of Louisa. The art gallery and theater will be available to the whole public.”
The LDDC, a volunteer board under the chairmanship of Louisa Town Council Member Pam Stone, has accepted the roles of fund-raising for the arts center and then managing the operation of the theater and the gallery.
“The school auditorium that once hosted school plays, assemblies and graduation exercises will get new life with comfortable seats, an expanded stage and state-of-the art audio and visual capabilities,” said Stone.
Located only two blocks northeast of the heart of the downtown business and county government center, the near century-old stone structure was purchased by the Louisa Town Council in September 2002. Since then, architects, the LDDC and local citizens have combined concepts and visions to ensure the best use of the Fredericksburg Avenue facility.
“Town meetings [held in 2003 and 2004] with planners and theatrical consultants as presenters allowed citizens to give input into the facilities at the park and the uses of the theater and gallery,” said Shirley Stewart, the grant writer for Community Initiatives of Green Springs and consultant of the LDDC board.
At various times, board members also visited neighboring theaters and cultural centers, to view their facilities and to speak with directors and production managers. Trips took them to such locations as the Glen Allen Cultural Center, The Montpelier Center, the Bayly Museum and Paramount Theater in Charlottesville and the Four County Players’ site in Barboursville.
“We discussed the physical design of the arts center, as well as the potential for programing,” said Stone. “This will allow us to maximize the use of the space we have, and present performances that will appeal to area residents and visitors.”
Members spoke with representatives of the Virginia Foundation for the Arts for advice on the availability of touring groups presenting live theater, concerts and youth programs. Possibilities range from puppet shows and ensembles to ballet productions and musical performances by local or nationally-known talent.
“We want to target all ages and the broad spectrum of interests,” said Stone.
Ginna Cullen, a former art teacher and member of the LDDC board, sees the advantages of the 212-seat, intimate theater, in addition to the preservation of the historical school auditorium.
“The smaller theaters are more successful and a trend in today’s communities,” she said. “The audience is closer to the production.”
Cullen is also the driving force behind the use of the gallery, an addition to the north side of the building adjacent to the parking lot, which will also serve as the main entrance to the town hall.
“Local artists, as well as visiting ones, can exhibit their work,” she said. “Open night receptions can be organized, and juried shows can be arranged.”
Already, Cullen has had interest shown by sculptors and painters from the surrounding area.
“Even our schools’ art teachers have had to go outside the county to exhibit their work,” she said. “High school seniors could use the gallery for shows as part of their [advanced] classes.”
The openness of the gallery, plus an adjacent kitchen suitable for catering, creates another option for the arts center. Family reunions, wedding receptions, meetings with political candidates or other functions could fill the 1,660 square-foot room and, in good weather, spill out into the adjacent patio.
Even classroom space on the second floor of the former school is slated to be refurbished for art instruction. Classes, in such disciplines as watercolors or pottery, could be taught in the appropriately equipped settings. Drama or dance workshops conducted by specialists in their fields could attract students. Activities, geared for teens and younger age groups, could expose future artists or performers to various types of tutelage.
The Dave Matthews Band, home-based in Charlottesville, has already contributed $5,000 to help equip a classroom focusing on youth and the arts.
With a goal of eventually creating a close to self-sustaining arts center, the board anticipates revenue from ticket sales, rental fees for private functions or other fund-raisers as scheduled by churches or civic groups.
The theater will be equipped with a screen and projector affording a group the option to rent the auditorium and sell tickets for a recently-released movie, completing the evening with popcorn and sodas. Beauty pageants and dance recitals could prove profitable, and commissions from sales by artists exhibiting in the gallery can also add to the income.
“We envision a combination of programing that the LDDC board will generate with fund-raising options for individual organizations,” said Stone. “We will form a group of patrons and seek out sponsorship of events to lower ticket prices.”
The LDDC also anticipates setting up an office in the Sargeant-Pettit House located on the parcel. The residence has been leased by the town to the Louisa County Historical Society for a nominal fee.
The organization plans to use the first floor of the former residence as a town museum, society office and site for rotating exhibits and research. The Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation will house its offices in a room, as well.
To administer bidding the renovation project and then the restoration work itself, the town council formed the Louisa Historic School, LLC. Bill Murphey, a LDDC board member, is serving as the organization’s representative on the LHS. The completion of the town hall/arts center renovations is tentatively scheduled for early 2006.
Community support is essential
Before the plans become a reality, the LDDC must seek funds to finance the renovations and addition.
Individuals, businesses, foundations and civic organizations will be contacted in the next few month by LDDC board members, who will request tax deductible donations. Memorial gifts, pledges, donations in-kind and anonymous contributions are also welcomed.
Naming opportunities for specific areas of the facility range from $400,000 to $35,000. Smaller amounts will be acknowledged on plaques or patio bricks.
Alumni or former students of the school are encouraged to give back to the building filled with youthful memories. Chairpersons are being sought to head up fund-raising challenges among the members of graduating classes of the former high school, or from those who spent the first years of their education there.
Stewart is also handling grant applications.
“As I research grants, I am learning that cities and towns across the country are using the arts to bring people downtown,” she said. “It works! Other locales have discovered that businesses benefit as people come to town for the cultural or educational events.”
In addition to the $66,000 already pledged, the town has acquired commitments of over $500,000 in grants and state tax credits, designated for the overall project which is estimated at close to $2.4 million.
Low cost loans will cover restoration expenses with donated funds working to reimburse those costs.