Topping off ceremony held for future Arts on Main in downtown Van Buren

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 724 views 

Members of the CAE board sign a beam prior to the topping off ceremony for the new CAE facility on historic Main Street in downtown Van Buren.

The Center for Art Education in Van Buren held a Topping Off Ceremony Tuesday morning (Dec. 29) for the new art center to be located on historic Main Street in downtown Van Buren.

The ceremony represented a milestone in the construction of its new CAE facilities, said Jane Owen, CAE executive director. The new facility will be a move of nine blocks from the CAE location at 104 N.13th St. to its future home adjoining the King Opera House on Main Street.

Construction started in late 2019 on the center house. Beshears Construction of Fort Smith filed for commercial remodel building permit with the city of Van Buren Nov. 27, 2019, indicating the project would cost $5.8 million. The total project cost, to include furniture, fixtures and equipment, is around $7 million.

Owen has said the center has the funds 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. The facility at 104 N. 13th St. is not completely handicap accessible and at 3,500 square feet – which includes a garage building that houses offices – does not 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 existing building, and will be handicap accessible, allowing the center to offer programs for everyone, Owen said.

Ken Kilgore, CAE building committee chairman, said Tuesday the project is 55% to 60% complete and hopefully will be finished by July. CAE intends to open the new site in early 2022. Once the move is made to 415 E. Main Street in downtown Van Buren, the organization will be known as Arts On Main.

Lisa Huckelbury Fort, CAE board president, and John Cooley, former board president, discuss the new Center for Art and Education building on historic Main Street in Van Buren from inside the newly constructed pottery studio that will be part of the new CAE facility.

A topping off in construction is a ceremony held by builders traditionally when the last beam  is placed atop a structure during its construction. The practice can be traced to the ancient Scandinavian religious rite of placing a tree atop a new building for luck or to appease spirits. Beshears Construction is well underway on main building repairs, structural stabilization, putting in foundations and utilities, and installing a new roof, a news release said.

“Much of that work has been completed or well underway,” said Galen Hunter, principal at MAHG Architecture, the project’s architecture firm. “We’ve also tuckpointed all the brick on the facade of the main building, which was aided by a grant provided by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.”

Tuckpointing is the act of sawing out the older brick mortar and replacing it with new mortar to “repair all those old joints and hopefully secure the building for another 100 years,” he added.

Behind the Main Street buildings that are being restored, construction is nearly complete on a separate, new building that will include pottery and ceramic studios and a large multipurpose classroom.

“That building is nearing completion,” Hunter said. “They’re painting the interior walls and installing ceiling tiles and light fixtures right now.”

The new facility will have three art galleries; art spaces children’s programming, including interactive space and art gallery, business and event meeting space that can be used as gallery space or theater rehearsal; art and technology space; and an outdoor park with sculpture garden. It will share a common wall with and will have access to the King Opera House Theater, Owen said.

The pottery studio will have space for 10 pottery wheels, glazing area, kilns, and a hand-building space. It also has an additional room that can be used for special events or serve as a large “dirty space” studio, she said. There also will be a culinary kitchen designed for cooking and food prep classes for all ages. The main building will be 15,000 square feet and the pottery studio is 2,000 square feet for a combined 17,000 square feet of space, Owen said.

Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1976, the Crawford County Art Association began operations from a small room in the city-owned Van Buren Community Center. By 1979, the art center purchased a turn-of-the-century house that became the Crawford County Art Association’s first home. In 1984, the Art Association acquired the historic St. Michael’s Catholic Church, circa 1912, the current home of CAE.

“We are very excited about the progress. We are looking forward to all the programs and exhibits we will be able to have in the new space,” Owen said.

There will be a “lights out” in the old facility in September, she said, giving administration a few months to move and organize before the new facility opens at the first of 2022.

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