County leaders hopeful about Arts Academy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A newly formed non-profit organization, comprised of county leaders, is looking to purchase land in downtown Columbiana to build a 12,000-square-foot Academy of Fine Arts building in Shelby County.

Officials are hopeful the facility will be open by fall 2006.

The organization, which is called the Academy of Fine Arts of Shelby County, was formed in July 2004 and received a $10,000 grant from the Shelby County Commission in March to acquire architectural drawings for the construction of a fine arts center.

Terri Sullivan, president of the AFA, said the organization is attempting to raise $1.25 million for the project and is aggressively pursuing more funding.

She said plans for the building will not be finalized until the organization secures property for the center.

&uot;We don’t want to blow $10,000 to get a plan that’s thrown out the window,&uot; she said.

AFA is looking at several lots, but Sullivan said ideally the center will be built in downtown Columbiana near the courthouse, which is a central location for county residents.

&uot;We want to build on the small town atmosphere of Columbiana,&uot; she said. &uot;I think the community would support it. They have been extremely encouraging.&uot;

She said they want to build the center on the Summer Classics property near Main Street in Columbiana because it is a cleared lot with access to parking. However, there have been no negotiations.

&uot;It would make the most sense,&uot; she said.

Bew White, owner of the Summer Classics property, said Sullivan has asked him to give AFA a portion of the property as a gift, but she has not offered to purchase the property from him.

White is currently working on a deal to trade the property, and he said AFA could receive a portion of the land if the trade is finalized. However, he said he could not talk about specifics of the trade or name the involved parties.

The deal could be finalized within the next few months, he said.

Sullivan said she and other county leaders are supporting the creation of a fine arts center because of the lack of opportunities in Shelby County for children and adults to express themselves creatively.

According to AFA’s website, the organization’s goal is to have a building equipped with a 450-seat studio theater, two dance rooms, two art rooms, a music room, gallery, kitchen, darkroom, offices and pottery kiln.

Classes at the fine arts center will have enrollment fees, but Sullivan said there will be scholarship positions offered for every class. AFA also plans to offer programs to local schools.

Sullivan said the AFA’s first program will be a week-long children’s theater camp July 18-23, which will be facilitated by the Missoula Children’s Theatre and held at Shelby County High School. The theater camp will place 60 local children in a production of The Jungle Book, and enrollment in the program is $65.

Five scholarships are available to children who want to be involved in the program but can not pay the enrollment fee, she said.

Sullivan said county residents can get involved with the AFA by purchasing a brick for $100, which would go toward the construction fund and eventually be placed at

the main entrance of the facility. The organization is also looking for four volunteer assistant directors for the summer theater camp, she said.

AFA will be hosting fine arts activities across from the Columbiana United Methodist Church on Liberty Day in Columbiana on June 25.

Sullivan said they hope to offer classes for children and adults at a church or school in the fall if a building is not in place.

Further information about the Academy of Fine Arts of Shelby County can be found at their website,