A project that has been more than half a decade in the making is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Arts Place launched a capital campaign in 2017 with a goal of raising $2.4 million to revitalize its Portland building, expand the space and make other upgrades. With a target of breaking ground by late spring, the organization is hitting the home stretch of its fundraising efforts.

So far, about $1.7 million has come in. That still leaves about 29 percent of the original goal left to be raised.

But last month, Arts Place got a boost.

John and Gretchen Young, former Portland residents who had already contributed to the project, made a new commitment. They offered a $200,000 challenge grant, meaning they will match any donation dollar-for-dollar up to that threshold.

If Arts Place is able to meet that challenge, it would be closing in on the funding needed to move the project forward.

“For those who have not yet given to the project, we think this may provide a boost to our effort,” said Arts Place executive director Eric Rogers, noting that there is also a $10,000 matching grant from the George and Frances Ball Foundation. “That’s a pretty cool thing to have.”

The organization has already started working toward that goal, having held a radio drive on WPGW earlier this month. Other plans call for reaching out again to previous donors, sending mailings out to theatre-oriented patrons and generally promoting the project.

“There are lots of different efforts that are going to be conducted over the next few months,” said Rogers. “If we match this money, then we know we can do (the project).”

The bulk of the project — it also includes a new heating, ventilation and cooling system that was installed in 2017 — is about fixing structural issues and moisture problems in the building on the west side of Harrison Street between Main and Walnut streets.

It was originally built in 1935 as an auto dealership and later became home to Jay County REMC and Indiana Michigan Power before Arts Place purchased it in 1983.

The goal is to secure the building so that it will last for the long-term. That would include dealing with those moisture issues, giving the building a better shell and grading the land around it for proper drainage.

Already, Rogers noted, about $10,000 was spent to lift the northwest corner of the building about 2 inches.

When the Arts Place board of directors started looking at those problems in 2014, it seemed time to expand their scope.

“The board decided to take a larger look,” Rogers said. “It’s sort of silly to just deal with the structural issues. What else do we need to deal with?”

The answers:

•Form a better lobby area for those who are waiting for students
•Add music studios to accommodate growth
•Create a “community gallery” to display the work of local artists
•Make the theatre area more use-friendly
•Renovate the visual arts classrooms to allow for better storage, equipment use and functionality
•Upgrade equipment
•Expand office space

To that end, the project calls for the addition of a total of about 2,700 square feet at the northwest and southwest corners of the building. That expansion will push Arts Place to just under 23,400 square feet.

The new space at the northeast corner will accommodate the expanded lobby and community gallery.

“That community gallery is so critical for two reasons,” said Rogers. “We don’t have a good waiting area in the building. And it’s a place where area artists can have their work on display.”

Local artists can get a show in the main gallery, but those are usually restricted to one per artist every five to 10 years.

“We need an area where artists can display their works on shorter terms or maybe have a few works up,” Rogers said. “That’s part of our mission is to give them exposure.”

The additional music studios on the southwest side will help to accommodate all of the various groups that are now active. Rogers notes that 20 years ago there was just one local music ensemble. The list is much longer now with Jay County Community Band, Eastern Breeze flute ensemble, Brown Paper Sax saxophone ensemble, Brassissimo! trumpet ensemble and Distant Thunder percussion ensemble, A Choired Taste choir and Stateline Singers youth choir.

With that long list, in addition to individual lessons, space is at a premium. For instance, the percussion group currently practices in the set shop.

Plans in the visual arts area call for renovation to allow for full use of pottery wheels, better ventilation for kilns and new storage for artists.

“They really need to leave their work up while they’re working on it. We’ve got to be able to store it so we can have another class,” said Rogers. “Right now we’re sort of stuck because if we’ve got a painting class going on we can’t have any other class going on in that area.”

Creating new storage areas that would allow for that artwork to be kept safe and out of the way would allow the space to be used far more often.

“Suddenly we can have four different classes going on in that space,” Rogers said, “which would help us because we have a really hard time scheduling visual arts classes.”

Overall, the goal is to be able to expand Arts Place’s impact for its patrons

“We’re going to be able to teach more students, make the building more accessible for our students,” said Rogers.

“For theatrical productions, whether it’s theatre or concerts, flexibility is a big deal,” he added, noting that some equipment dates back to 1985. “We’re doing work on the theatre that really needs to be done.

“This will have a tremendous impact on the flexibility of the building and the number of students who can use the building at any given time.”

As fundraising continues, timelines are starting to close in.

For Arts Place to receive some of the grant funding it has been awarded, bids need to be let no later than June 1. (It would be preferred that ground be broken on the project by that date.) In order to make that happen, the organization needs to at least get to the $2.1 million mark.

Preferably, Rogers said, fundraising can get as close to the $2.4 million mark as possible “because this isn’t a project with any real fluff in it, it’s hard for us to do much less than close to the total project.”

Items that could potentially be delayed include parking lot and landscaping, but they make up a small portion of the overall plans.

As he looks ahead to the work that is planned for 2020, Rogers is most excited about the prospect of making the facility structurally sound.

“This building needs to be here 100 years from now. And right now, as it is, we’re going to be constantly dealing with major maintenance issues that drain the budget,” he said. “If we can take these steps, the building will have less attention that needs to be spent on it so we can focus on other stuff.”

With his own retirement not too many years away, he’s hopeful that future fundraising efforts can be all about satisfying the programming needs of Arts Place patrons. “I want to hear that next capital campaign is going to be about needing to expand because we have so many more people,” he said, “and that’s the only reason we need to do it.”
-30-