Dreaming big for arts future

Shelby County Arts Council members dream big.

They dream in terms of 26,000-square-feet of art space and they feel they have good reason to do so.

“The arts draw people together but the programs have to be close in order to accomplish that goal,” said founder Terri Sullivan.

The council began conjuring up ideas for a performing arts facility immediately after Sullivan pulled the council together.

Sullivan said performing arts facilities within Jefferson County provide 13,620 seats in a single evening, not including availability in schools, churches or the BJCC.

Shelby County meanwhile offers just 1,989 seats for arts events, Sullivan said. She noted 1,899 of those seats are located on the University of Montevallo campus. This is why Sullivan said building a performing arts facility always seemed a necessity.

The city of Columbiana donated land for the facility in September 2008. Architects drew up initial plans last year and the next step was to consult experts within the art community. The council held discussions with gallery owners, lighting and sound experts and others for advice.

Sullivan met with Kate Nielsen, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, about the council’s fundraising efforts as well.

Sullivan said Nielson further encouraged the effort.

“She told us to be bold — that’s all the encouragement I needed,” Sullivan said.

Funding for architectural drawings came from two grants; $90,000 from the Alabama State Arts Council and $95,000 from HUD per a federal appropriations request by U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus.

Kyle Kish, of HKW, explained the plans.

“Its not just a building with one function and if you don’t use it for that purpose its dead — we tried to make it as efficient as possible,” Kish said.

Downstairs will be two ticket windows flanking a will call box. The entrance will flow into an open gallery space with three large windows allowing in natural light.

The highlight of the facility includes a black box theater with seating capability for 450. This room can also be used as a multipurpose space for banquets or a theater-in-the-round.

Two classrooms with collapsible partitions will offer either an intimate setting for one-on-one instruction or space for larger classes. The kiln area, which will open to the outside, will allow pottery and other students to fire their works on-site. There will also be storage rooms for instruments, two practice rooms, dressing rooms and a catering kitchen. Adorning the front of the building will be a courtyard space for after-event parties.

Upstairs a dance studio, changing area, administrative offices and control room for the theater take up much of the space.

Three large exterior windows improve the esthetic by allowing natural light to flow into the gallery and dance studio.

To get things started, the council hopes to attract a $1 million gift and $300,00 in seed money. The seed money would cover the cost of consultant fees and the salary of an executive director.

“I think with those two things wrapped up, we could kick off our capital campaign with confidence,” Sullivan said.

Alane Larimer, whose company Larimer, Waldrop and Associates is working with the council to build a campaign plan, said the cost to construct the building falls near $5 million.

“We’ve found enthusiasm for this project,” Larimer said. “We have never doubted that this is a need — this is a great plan.”

She said other needs will factor into the overall campaign goal — needs such as continuing instruction as the building is constructed.

“It’s absolutely drop-dead amazing what they do with the money they have. They are incredibly efficient,” she said.

In other council news, Rep. Steve French presented the council with a $5,600 check to match funds provided by the Alabama State Arts Council. Those grants together will fund the Art Abilities program, which provides therapy for special needs students. Meanwhile, the Have a Heart for the Arts fashion show, coordinated by the Culture, Novella and Vignette Clubs of Columbiana reaped another $4,600 to benefit the council’s programs.