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4/29/2014 10:52:00 AM
Non-profit visits Williams for old school building art center feasibility study
Members of the Williams Alliance for the Arts hope to transform the old school building on Sheridan Avenue in Williams into a thriving art center. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Members of the Williams Alliance for the Arts hope to transform the old school building on Sheridan Avenue in Williams into a thriving art center. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter


WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Determining what community members would want in a local arts center was the goal of a public meeting April 23.

Representatives from the nonprofit group Artspace visited Williams last week to complete a preliminary feasibility study for turning the old school building on Sheridan Avenue into a Williams Center for the Arts. About 50 people attended the public meeting portion of the study.

The old school was built in 1936 and includes three stories totaling 40,000 square feet, said Wendy Holmes, senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace.

"Schools often don't have columns and they have high ceilings and lots of natural light and they just lend themselves really well for arts activity," she said.

The arts center could contain live/work artists' lofts, shared studio spaces, and classroom space for adults and children, according to Bonnie Dent, Williams Alliance for the Arts member.

"Our vision includes all possibilities, everything from yoga and maybe martial arts through music, performing arts, drawing and painting, all types to be able to be versatile enough to offer things that anyone could find something that they would like to be a part of in that art center," Dent said.

Through consulting on several projects throughout the country, Artspace has determined the necessary ingredients to making a successful arts center. Those include affordability and sustainability, effective internal governance structures, community rooms and other gathering places, and strong anchor tenants, especially arts organizations and creative businesses.

For example, one Artspace project contains a graphic design studio in the rear of the building and a coffee shop in the front, which helps subsidize the artwork as well as connect the space to the rest of the community.

After showing several examples of their projects across the country, the Artspace representatives opened the presentation to questions and comments from the audience.

Williams resident Ryan Schmitz said he was looking forward to the idea of having an arts center in town.

"I know a lot of us are really excited about educational potential," he said. "There's a lot of people interested in the arts. And it's always the first thing to go in schools and it's the things that really make for beautiful humans."

Grand Canyon School art teacher Amy McBroom agreed that the educational component was important.

"We are dying to take kids to do workshops," she said. "We have no place to take them for workshops. We can take kids into NAU and they can look at the stuff but they can't participate."

McBroom added that she had a personal interest in the project as well.

"I am an artist too," she said. "Do I have a space? Yeah, it's called 6 x 6 in my bedroom."

McBroom said she would be interested in teaching workshops in the art center.

Local high school student Story Schmitz said he was excited about the prospect of a local art center.

"I am an artist, I've got a couple of friends who are artists, and there is a hugely real frustration between us about not having proper instruction and really feeling like we don't have a venue and really feeling like we can't show anyone our art and feeling just kind of like lone wolves," he said. "Like yeah, we sketch, we get oil paints, we wish we knew how to use them."

Williams resident Yvette Hudson said she would like to see a portion of the building be dedicated to museum space.

"Williams is the only town of any size on historic Route 66 that does not have a museum," she said. "Having that at an art complex up there would be another draw for tourists to come up there and also to see the history of Williams, because it has a varied history, not only cattle and ranching and lumber and the railroad."

While some audience members were concerned with the art center becoming low income housing for Northern Arizona University (NAU) art students who would leave after graduating, others suggested partnering with NAU to offer residencies in exchange for offering classes to the community.

Two audience members asked about what Artspace's role in the project would be in the future, since the nonprofit has helped create 35 affordable arts facilities in 14 states, which it owns or co-owns.

"I think that there's a lot of passion and interest in making this possible," Holmes said. "What our role will be is yet to be seen. One step at a time. But we're certainly going to help you figure out next steps. And if we can be involved in some of those next steps, fantastic."

The day after the meeting, the Artspace representatives and Williams Alliance for the Arts members met with elected officials for a focus group about the project.

The Artspace representatives will now write a report that includes next steps and funding ideas for the project.

"We won't have all the answers based on being here for three and a half days, but we will have some ideas," Holmes said.

After the meeting Williams Alliance for the Arts co-founder Kris Williams said she thought the meeting went well.

"One comment that we got was that our vision was spot on and I think they were very favorably impressed by what we showed them," she said. "We worked very, very hard to make the Artspace visit a success, but that's just the beginning. The hard work, the real work, is yet to come."


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