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Cultural Awareness

Grassroots campaign is on
for a Madison Arts Center

Given the town’s reputation in the arts,
many wonder why it’s taking so long

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

November 2006 Indiana Cover

November 2006
Indiana Edition Cover

(November 2006) – Rising Sun, Ind., is a small town with a population of about 2,500 people. It lies in the smallest county in the state, which has a population of about 5,600 people. Despite its small size, Rising Sun is home to the Rising Sun Pendleton Art Center, which features the Southeastern Indiana Friends of the Arts gallery.
The arts center has a complex of artist studios and is open on the First Friday of every month, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., for visitors to view the art and visit with the artists. There are 28 artists operating out of the arts center, and plans are under way to expand, due to the success of the center.
Cincinnati businessman James Verdin of the Verdin Co. bought the building and helped establish the center in an effort to grow the arts community. Verdin is also the owner of the thriving Pendleton Art Center in Cincinnati and the Ashland Pendleton Art Center, in Ashland, Ky.
“The arts centers not only help bring the artists together and create a place for them to work and sell their art, but they create economic possibilities for a community,” Verdin said in an October telephone interview.
Perhaps surprising to some, Madison, Ind., home of the world-class Madison Chautauqua of the Arts Festival and the increasingly popular Madison Art Club Regional Art Show, does not have an arts center. But even Verdin believes the town is a perfect candidate for establishing one.

Art Center Crowd

Photo by Don Ward

Visitors explore more than 140 entries
from 80 artists in the Madison Art Club’s
Regional Art Show, which hung in October
at the Madison Art Gallery. This year’s show
drew a record number of entires vying for
a record $4,625 in prize money.

“Madison, with its great historic district and opportunities, is prime for an arts center,” he said. Verdin has even been looking at several buildings in Madison’s downtown area for possible expansion.
In recent years, meanwhile, efforts by local government and art club members to develop an arts center in Madison have failed. Some point to the sheer lack of property that would be conducive to success, while others cite a lack of political and financial power to make it happen.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington said the city has even tried to find a suitable building that could serve as an arts center, providing both visual and performing arts to the community. “We’d like to have an arts center in the downtown, but we don’t have a good location for it. Currently, there are no buildings available for sale downtown that would suit our needs.”
Recently, however, a group of prominent Madison residents, currently known as “The Benefactors,” have joined forces with leaders of the Madison Art Club to help push for such a facility. With money to back their ambition, the effort suddenly has more teeth, say local artists. They cite the Madison Art Club’s recent Regional Art Show, which handed out a record $4,625 in prize money, thanks to the support of these “Benefactors.” By comparison, last year’s prize money totaled $2,335 for the same show. As a result, 37 of the record 80 artists who entered the judged competition and show came from other states.
And the enthusiasm since the show opened in October has only grown, in turn, fueling momentum for establishing an arts center in town.
“We finally have some people getting behind this effort who we believe can make things happen because they have the money to do it,” said Hanover resident and artist Larry Rudolech, the art show’s chairman.
“And we, as artists, have grown our club to nearly 100 members in just a few short years, so we are ready now to take it to the next level.”

Madison Art Gallery

Photo by Don Ward

The Madison Art Gallery has become a
focal point for local artists who pay a fee
to display and sell their work there.

Indeed, the grassroots campaign for an arts center in Madison is gaining momentum. Bill Borden, a well-known water colorist in the community and throughout the region, moved to the Madison area because of the growing arts scene. And after a few failed earlier attempts, he is excited about this new vitality in the efforts to create an arts center.
“It’s like trying to get your lawn mower started in the spring. You crank it the first time, and it kind of sputters; you crank it again, and it runs a little while and then stops. You crank it a third time, and then it finally gets going.”
Borden said he is optimistic about the chances this time, adding, “Sometimes, moving slow is the best way to go because if you rush into things, they often don’t get put together right and it can fall apart on you.”

Lending financial support

Madison attorney John Eckert, a central figure in “The Benefactors” group, said that at first, The Benefactors were simply a few community members interested in art who wanted to provide financial assistance to the artists for their annual art show. Those community members liked the positive aspects of the art show, such as no limitations on the type of artists allowed in the show.

Jasper Community Arts Center

Photo provided

The Jasper Community Arts Center
receives strong local support and
in return provides cultural and
economic benefits to the area,
says arts director Kit Miracle.

“We liked how the art show brings awareness of art to the community,” Eckert said.
He said that it is because of the success of the annual art show that more community members have joined the group, and they are now looking toward helping the club establish an arts center. “The Madison Art Club has done an excellent job of forming and becoming a progressive group that is easy to assist.”
At this point, Eckert said “The Benefactors,” in conjunction with art club members and city officials, are looking at every available possibility, in terms of buildings in the downtown area. “The Benefactors plan to have more meetings to discuss other needs and move interest for the art club forward, including possible plans for an arts center.”
Huntington said that any building would have to provide adequate parking because of special events that might occur there, such as plays and concerts.
Although the Dollar Store behind the current Madison Art Gallery is for sale, the mayor said parking there would present a problem. “There is a small lot on the east side of the art gallery, but it only has 10 or 15 spaces,” he said.
The former Family Dollar building on West Main Street was once considered for purchase by the city, but it was passed over because of some structural problems that were discovered. The building was initially considered because it sits right on Main Street and next to a large city parking lot.
Other buildings that had been looked at included the former Hoosier Parts location on Second Street and the Meese building, a former cotton mill that sits on the riverfront near the bridge. The Hoosier Parts building has been sold, and the Meese building reportedly has an offer on it. The prospective buyer of the latter building has other plans for the property than an arts center.

John Eckert

John Eckert

Eckert said those involved in these discussions are not only looking at ownership, but rentals as well. “We are keeping all options open,” he said.
Location is the key
Not only does the community of Madison need to figure out where to house the arts center, it has to consider future financing and operations, as well.
In some communities, empty churches, abandoned warehouses, older schools, and buildings in poorer neighborhoods were converted into arts centers. In Bloomington, Ind., an old firehouse was converted into a beautiful arts center. In several cases, community members pooled their resources and bought the buildings, while in other cities, officials backed the creation of the art centers, or private investors set them up.
Some arts centers are run as not-for-profits, while others are for-profit enterprises. Some are backed by local governments or funded by grants; others are run through private donations.
“It really depends on what the goals are for the center, whether there will be investors or benefactors, private or public, or not-for profit or for profit,” Verdin said.
Jasper Community Arts Center in Jasper, Ind., offers a good example. It is a city similar in size to Madison with about 13,000 people. Back in the 1970s, a private group calling itself the Jasper Auditorium Corporation was created to promote the building of a civic auditorium. They ended up building the $600,000 Jasper Civic Auditorium and then donated it to the city.
In 1975, as part of the City of Jasper, the Jasper Community Arts Commission became the only arts commission in the state to be officially recognized as a department of the city and under the authority of the city council.
The center operates as part of the municipal government; it has an annual budget and must follow various government rules.
Kit Miracle, the current Arts Director for the Jasper Community Arts Center, said, “The center still has to raise money, which we do through grant programs, donations and ticket sales.”

Jim Verdin

Jim Verdin

She said the community support of the center is amazing. “We have a 675-seat performing arts theater that does 12 major shows a year and is a sold-out performer series.”
The center also has a visual arts gallery, several other theater series and an in-school educational program.
The town has a local theater group, art guild and dance troupe, which Miracle said were a “great economic and cultural benefit to the community.” She said the arts center is a major draw for new residents, tourists and those considering whether to relocate to the city. Miracle said the center is hoping to expand because “we are growing out of our current facilities.”
In a different type of setup, Cincinnati Pendleton Art Center, the Rising Sun Pendleton Art Center and the Ashland Pendleton Art Center are all for-profit businesses. “We didn’t necessarily plan to go that route, but that is how we ended up,” Verdin said.
In Cincinnati, he bought a building in a disadvantaged neighborhood and converted it into an arts center that boasts it is the world’s largest collection of artists under one roof.

Kit Miracle

Kit Miracle

“We look for buildings that are economically feasible for everyone,” he said. The city helped with the price of the building. Verdin said it is a winning situation for everyone because the location helped attract money and people into the area.
Currently, 140 artists rent out the studios and workspaces. Verdin said he keeps the rent low so the artists feel comfortable. The center is only open on the final Friday of each month for visitors to view and buy the artwork; the rest of the time the artists spend making the inventory.
“We have more than 2,000 visitors each Final Friday at the center,” Verdin said.
The arts centers in Rising Sun and Ashland both operate in similar fashions. The city governments provide aid and participate in the centers and, in turn, the arts centers bring in tourists and money into the cities. Those arts centers are open during the First Friday of each month.
Public or private?
The Oldham County Arts Center in Crestwood, Ky., is yet another way in which a collective effort by the public and private sectors of the community has helped build a flourishing arts and art education center. The center opened in August 2004 and is housed in the former Crestwood Baptist Church. The church sold the property to the Oldham County Board of Education in November 2001 to build a new facility across town. Parts of the center are on the National Register for Historic Places. Renovations and improvements are ongoing at the center.
The school board’s purchase was made possible with money provided by Oldham County Fiscal Court from donations made by Dynegy Inc. Many other organizations and individuals donated funds to help the center, including a group called the Friends of the Arts Center.
Not only does the center present a variety of visual and performing arts, it offers numerous educational programs, including accredited high school and college courses in subjects related to art and community, adult and family education programs. Many instructors for dance, theater and music come from the University of Louisville and other organizations.

Larry Rudolech

Larry Rudolech

Local art enthusiasts say Madison is ready for a an arts center, and many wonder why it hasn’t had one all along. The city has an extensive list of well-established artists, performing groups and a supportive community. Recent developments in the push toward the formation of an arts center are encouraging, however, those pushing for one say it will take a coordinated effort between the city, artists, benefactors and the downtown business community to ensure such an effort is successful for everyone.
Meanwhile, Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says a $20,000 grant to the Ohio River Scenic Byway, has been received for the group to develop an Internet website and marketing materials for the Artisan Trail. This new initiative is designed to promote artists and art-related businesses in towns along the Ohio River in 21 southeastern Indiana counties. Madison has been designated as one of the primary “hubs” along that trail, however, the city needs a facility to show off its talents, she says.
The project, called “By Hoosier Hands,” already has collected more than 500 southern Indiana artists in a database who would be promoted in this effort. She worries that unless Madison moves quickly to establish an arts center or some similar facility that other towns will pass it by in marketing their own communities.
Rudolech, though, says he is confident that the wheels are moving now. “It seems like things are falling together, but there is a lot of work to be done, so we will have to wait and see where it all leads.”

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