Construction set to begin on ‘Arts On Main’ expansion in downtown Van Buren

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,287 views 

Artist rendering of the front of the Arts on Main facility soon to be built in downtown Van Buren.

Construction will start this month on the new home for the Center for Art & Education in Van Buren. The center recently held a ground-breaking ceremony at what will be its new home at 415 Main Street, next door to the King Opera House.

Beshears Construction of Fort Smith filed for commercial remodel building permit with the City of Van Buren Nov. 27, indicating the project would cost $5.8 million. CAE Executive Director Jane Owen said the center has the funds in place for the remodel project, thanks in part to a $2 million matching grant from the Windgate Foundation. Fundraising efforts began in 2016 when the CAE board of directors and staff realized their growing pains meant they would need a new home.

“It became evident that we were going to outgrow the space,” Owen said.

The facility at 104 N. 13th St. is not completely handicap accessible and did have room for all the exhibits, programs and workshops the center wanted. The new facility is 17,000 square feet, more than three times the size of the current building, and will be handicap accessible, allowing the center to offer programs for everyone, Owen said.

“It’s taken a few years to raise the money, but our generous donors and community have really rallied behind the idea of a cultural center to contribute to all the wonderful things that are going on in downtown Van Buren. So, this is a particularly gratifying moment for us, perhaps the most gratifying in our 43 years. But the best is yet to come,” Owen said.

The new building will consist of two buildings, Owen said. A second building will be built behind the existing historic building that will house a pottery studio. It will feature a lobby and two galleries, a multi-purpose meeting and event space, a culinary kitchen and storage area on the first floor. The second floor will feature multiple children’s classrooms, office space, and additional storage along with a break room and an interactive children’s gallery. There will be an elevator to the second floor, which also will feature a library with floor to ceiling shelving and a wheeled ladder that will allow for display and access to the many historic art books the center owns.

Artist rendering of the rear of the Arts on Main facility soon to be built in downtown Van Buren.

“We probably have more historical art books than either the Van Buren or the Fort Smith libraries. Some of them are first editions or out of print (books) that have been donated over the years. We have too many to have out now. We’ll finally have a space for them,” Owen said.

The second floor of the new building once served as a rooming house and has historic significance, Owen said. As such, CAE will have to restore the façade of the building to as historically accurate as possible. The rooms also have to stay configured as they are. In doing so, CAE will be eligible for certain tax credits and Arkansas Heritage grants, she said.

“We also will go to the city to with plans to have an opening between the center and the King Opera House. We haven’t done that yet, and we will have to get that approved,” Owen said. “That would allow patrons to easily go from our facility to the theater for programs that will be in both, like maybe a wine-tasting event before a production at the King Opera House.”

A park with a series of gardens, including a sculpture garden, and a walking path to a new pottery studio will sit behind the back exterior.

“We hope to develop an herb garden that we can use for workshops to teach people how to grow their own herbs and then to even take that into the culinary kitchen, where we will offer even more workshops and classes,” Owen said.

The culinary space will allow the art center to offer everything from team-building experiences to wine-tasting events to culinary experiences, she said, noting there is not another facility in the area that offers culinary experiences. Culinary art programs are offered in Wagoner, Okla., and Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food is in Bentonville, she said.

With the new center will come more volunteer opportunities and new programs, Owen said, who said they may look at adding staff after the new center opens and new programs are added. The art center has four full-time staff members and one part-time position.

“We anticipate a likely opening in the fall/winter of 2021, and from there, it becomes about sustainability, and we will have a lot of great programming to keep up the support,” said Lisa Fort, board president.

Owen also said the center would have to focus on finding funding for sustainability now that funds for the building have been secured. There will be opportunities for corporate and individual sponsorships that will come with membership and other perks, Owen said. Though most of the children’s programs and adult workshops have fees even now, the exhibits at the new building will remain free of charge, she said.

Fort Smith-based MAHG Architecture and Myers-Beatty Structural Engineering of Van Buren helped with planning the new building with design assists from Charles Peer and Dave Andrus and the CAE Building Committee.

The 43-year-old Center for Art & Education began in a small room in the city-owned Van Buren Community Center, its website states. The first art exhibits and classes were held in whatever space was available. In 1979, the art center bought a “turn-of-the-century home,” which became the first Crawford County Art Center. In 1984, the art center bought St. Michael’s Catholic Church, circa 1912, which has served as its home since. Over the next 25 years, the center changed its name to the Center for Art and Education and grew its programs. It now serves more than 5,000 individuals of all ages, its website said. The new building will bring one more change for the organization.

Once the move is made to 415 E. Main Street, the organization will be known as Arts On Main, the art center announced in a 2019 Artalk publication.

“We felt it was important to have a name that expresses all of the areas of art that this very active organization supports. ‘Arts’ encompasses so much more than just painting. It’s painting, photography, sculpture, culinary arts, and performing arts. And, ‘On Main’ tells everyone in the region where it’s located with Van Buren’s Main Street recently becoming very active itself,” Fort said.

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