The dream of creating a Williams Center for the Arts is closer to becoming a reality after the group behind the project recently received a $10,000 grant.
The Arizona Commission on the Arts awarded the Community Catalyst Grant to the Williams Alliance for the Arts on Jan. 13.
"The purpose of the grant was to give funding to smaller communities who have previously been underserved by other agencies in the area of the arts," said Kris Williams, owner of The Gallery in Williams and founder of the Williams Alliance for the Arts.
The group will use the money to hire the nonprofit Artspace to conduct a preliminary feasibility study for turning the old school building on Sheridan Avenue into the Williams Center for the Arts.
The grant won't cover the total cost of the consulting visit, which is $15,000. And since it is a matching grant, the Williams Alliance for the Arts has to raise half of the grant money, or $5,000.
"So the fundraising starts now," Williams said.
The Williams Alliance for the Arts has set its gala kickoff fundraising event for Feb. 23 at Café 326 from 4 to 7 p.m.
"It will be a Vino Van Gogh party where you come and have a glass of wine, some wonderful food, you're given a canvas and some paints and a real artist will take you through creating your own masterpiece," Williams said.
The donation is $100 for the kickoff event. Williams added that the group will organize other lower cost fundraisers in the future as well.
Once the fundraising is underway, Williams hopes to schedule the Artspace trip by March to allow the group to prepare for its two-day visit, which would potentially take place in June.
During the visit, Artspace representatives will meet with stakeholders to discuss the suitability of the site and the concept for the art center.
Ideas for the building include creating live/work artists' lofts and offering classes and activities for all ages including visual art, dance, music, yoga, cooking and gardening.
"It's not going to be a fast project and we'll probably not try to do everything at once," Williams said. "So we will decide what would be the most important thing to finish first and focus on that."
Also during the consulting visit, the Artspace team will put on a public meeting to encourage ideas and involvement from community members.
"It's the first step to get the project going, because it's a big project, and it's way too big for one person to do," Williams said.
Perhaps most importantly, the Artspace representatives will provide guidance for how to find funding sources for the project. At the end of the visit, Artspace will complete a written report with recommended next steps for creating the art center.
Although Artspace mainly serves as a consultant in most cases, the nonprofit has also helped create 35 affordable arts facilities in 13 states, which the group owns or co-owns. While the proposed Williams Center for the Arts is smaller than most of the projects with which Artspace has collaborated, Williams is still somewhat hopeful about the prospect of a partnership.
"They may come and decide, 'Your location is perfect, you've got a great market, there's nothing else like this in northern Arizona, we'll make an exception and this is a project we'd like to partner on,'" Williams said. "That's kind of our best of all worlds solution. But it's an outside chance."
Bruce Bennett, the owner of the 40,000 square foot former school building, has said he would sell it for about $2 million and that the idea for the art center is a good one.
"Everybody wants to see that building used for something," Williams said.
Since the Williams Alliance for the Arts' 501c3 status has not been approved yet, the Flagstaff Community Foundation is acting as the fiscal partner for the grant. However, the Williams Alliance for the Arts has been incorporated, has a bank account, and is accepting donations, which will be tax deductible since the nonprofit status will be approved this year. About 30 people are currently involved with the group.
"I think since the grant has been awarded, people are starting to think that this is going to be a real possibility and more people are becoming interested," Williams said. "We see it as a real center for the community of Williams, and I see that it could possibly be a regional art center, so it would reinvigorate more than just Williams, but the northern Arizona region."
More information about getting involved with the Williams Alliance for the Arts or making a donation is available from Williams at (928) 310-6287.