Progress Continues on the Lumberyard Arts Center

Article by Michael C. Auchard
March 4, 2011
Lawrence Journal-World

Though it is still unfinished, the Lumberyard Arts Center, 718 High St., is developing at a steady pace, with many already-completed facilities available for local arts enthusiasts to enjoy.

Sherry Bowden, Project Coordinator and board of directors member for the arts center, says the process has been long and laborious, potentially reaching completion later this decade. A large theater highlights the continuing building plans for the facility.

"We're probably looking at three to five years to really get it totally finished," she says. "I'd say, in general, the theater will be a bigger undertaking than what we've done so far, what with running lights and sound."

Bowden says the theater will enrich the lives of the local populace, even more than the already-existing aspects of the arts center.

"I get the most excited about getting the theater done, because it's going to have such an impact on what we can offer. Yes, I'm very excited about getting phase two done, but I'm also excited just to have phase one done. I think we're going to see momentum and an ever-increasing use of the building."

Bowden says funding for the project has been difficult at times, but not horribly challenging. She says the board members have come up with creative ways to cut building costs, doing the labor themselves when possible.

She says, however, the recent disintegration of the Kansas Arts Commission, due to state budget concerns, has been a blow to the Lumberyard Arts Center, and to all art in Kansas.

"The loss of that, to not have an organization that supports these projects — in a lot of ways besides writing grants — is really sad," Bowden says. "It's, to me, like saying culture doesn't matter. "

Fellow board member Tony Brown agrees with Bowden's views about the loss of the commission. He says projects like the Lumberyard Arts Center help provide something to the community beyond "dollars and cents," something important to society.

"The money we invest in different programs in communities in this state indicate what our values are," Brown says. "What the message is, is that the arts are not valued in Kansas. I find that unfortunate. Every community in the history of the world, every civilization, has had art in it."

Brown says the project to finish the Lumberyard Arts Center will, if anything, be sped up in the future. He says the board of directors has a series of definite goals they want to get accomplished.

"We're going to be aggressive," he says. "We're going to try and move this as quickly as we can. Though, we also know we're coming out of the worst economic recession in recent memory. It took us eight years since this building was vacated to get the first half done, I don't want to be sitting here in 2019 and still be talking about the back part (of the building). So, as I mentioned, the motivation here is to get the building done."

Melinda Hipple, a drawing and painting teacher at the center, says eventually, when the building is complete, the next challenge will be to draw in crowds to use the art space.

"I do think one thing that we still have yet to do right now," she says, "is there's going to have to be a bigger push to draw people in from the outside. We'll need to expand the people who come to use the building. That will come. It may take a little more funding, but that will come."

Hipple says the Lumberyard Arts Center is a vast improvement compared to the art spaces Baldwin City has used in the past. She says the future looks bright for both the arts center and Baldwin City.

"It's so nice to have a dedicated space, to know you have the facilities, know you have running water. It's just so much more freeing to have something like this as a teacher, where you know you have resources that are continuing to build and support what you do. I think, as the theater is complete, it's going to add even more energy. Having an arts center in a small town adds a lot of life and vitality. I can't say enough about it."