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Flexibility is key for new arts center

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Arts group, college are talking
At the July 23 forum for the Yellow Springs Center for the Arts, many participants urged the group’s steering committee to collaborate with the newly independent Antioch College toward a joint project that would best serve both college and village.

In an interview last week, Committee Chairman Jerome Borchers emphasized that the group has been working closely with college representatives all along.

But Borchers was also clear about YSCA’s intent.

“We’re not here for an Antioch arts center, we’re trying to create a Yellow Springs arts center,” he said.

A strong, shared village asset is the best thing to help the college succeed, Borchers said.

“The healthiest community is not just dependent on Antioch coming back, but adds something that could provide synergy and economic strength of its own,” he said.

In 2008 the steering committee established a facilities task force (Jane Baker, Richard Lapedes, Louise Smith, Ellen Hoover and Rod Hoover) to identify a performing arts facility in the village. The task force spent nine months, with the help of professional consultants, assessing more than a dozen properties, including the Antioch Area Theater.

The consultants agreed that renovation of the theater would be more expensive than building new, Borchers said Friday.

College alumni leaders Matt Derr and Lee Morgan support the steering committee’s decision to build a new performance space, Borchers said. The steering committee has also spoken to both men about simultaneous fundraising efforts for the college, the arts center and many other projects in the village.

“We’re not going to be in competition — we’re all in this together, and we’ve been making decisions that are in touch with that strategy,” Borchers said.

For theater professionals, the most important attribute of a new arts center facility would be flexibility, meaning that a ground floor performance space that could seat up to 300 could transform into an intimate, experimental stage with seating for 30.

For dancers, the space should include a marley or portable sprung floor, for musicians excellent acoustics, for visual artists separate spaces for exhibition and educational purposes.

And while the question remained unanswered at the latest community forum on the Yellow Springs Center for the Arts, some asked if this space could also be used for whole community events, weddings, proms and lectures that could further the “intellectual ferment” that Antioch College began in the village.

The forum, held Wednesday, July 23, at the First Presbyterian Church, was the latest event seeking public opinion on a four-year process focused on shaping a center for the arts in the village. The YSCA Steering Committee asked artists from each discipline to describe the specific aspects an arts center should include and to separate them into “wants” versus “needs.” While each group came up with characteristics and amenities, none was able to distinguish wants from needs.

And while several participants emphasized that a new arts space should mutually benefit both the village and a newly independent Antioch College, no one explained how such a collaborative effort would look.

Theater sans wildlife

Regarding their specific criteria, the theater group spoke about the need for a make-up/backstage/green room, adequate and centralized costume and set equipment storage and a rehearsal space plus a place to store large sets.

As producers of shows that can involve as many as 100 youth and attract audiences of up to 300 for a high school musical production, YS Kids Playhouse director John Fleming and parents Nadia Malarkey and Kim Kremer were looking for not only performance areas, but a permanent place for a box office, concessions, restrooms and other supporting infrastructure.

“We really just need a place that’s maintained, is not falling apart, has no leaks and where wildlife isn’t infiltrating at every corner — is that too much to ask?” Kremer said.

Writer, director and actor Tony Dallas recalled the days when Antioch’s Shakespeare repertory would draw regional crowds of up to 600 people, and he suggested that the village work to rebuild that reputation. Several suggested building a space that would also accommodate touring theater companies who want to perform in Yellow Springs, modifying a larger space with the use of a fly loft for smaller, more experimental theater, works in progress or educational workshops, several said.

“We need to create a space that does not overlay an aesthetic imperative,” said Louise Smith, former director of the college’s theater program. That space should be “open, flexible and neutral.”

Dancers, musicians weigh in

Flexibility was also important to the dance group, whose members anticipated community performances for up to 200 people as well as educational workshops and experimental works in progress best suited to a smaller area. The dancers also expressed the need for good lighting, sound systems and a warm-up space. Former Antioch College dance professor Dimi Reber emphasized the critical nature of partnering with the college for the ongoing expertise necessary to generate a strong dance program in the village.

A space for musical performances should include seats for up to 300 audience members and a stage with room to store a concert piano, according to members of that group, who also wanted the flexibility to serve alcohol at certain events. The visual and media arts group wanted exhibition and education space, some of which could be broken into smaller, studio rooms.

Is new space needed?

A fifth group at the Wednesday forum looked at the big picture of arts in the village and suggested that the village under-utilizes a lot of currently existing spaces and didn’t necessarily need to build a new arts center facility. However, identifying one centralized arts education/enrichment space would provide consistency for participants and supporters alike, participants said. The group also recommended identifying one large performance space in the village that could also be used for whole community events and lectures.

The YSCA Steering Committee, with support from the Morgan Family Foundation, has been working since 2005 to create a stronger infrastructure for the arts in the village, according to a timeline distributed at Wednesday’s forum. While the group initially emphasized the construction of a new performance space, it changed direction in 2007 to build the organizational capacity of already existing arts groups, such as the Little Art Theatre, YS Kids Playhouse and Summer in the Springs, while helping to develop the Yellow Springs Arts Council as the focal point for local arts efforts.

In May, the committee returned to its original goal and secured a six-month option to purchase the former grain elevator lot owned by Matt Arnovitz on the corner of Dayton and Railroad streets, for potential construction of a new center for the arts facility.

The steering committee also distributed a questionnaire in the News this month asking villagers to rank their needs for an ideal arts center. Smith urged artists and villagers to complete and return them.

“They need information, and the more we can give as a community, the more satisfied I think we’ll be with the results,” she said last week.

The current YSCA Steering Committee members include president Jerome Borchers, Jane Baker, Anita Brown, Mary Campbell-Zopf, Luke Dennis, John Fleming, Paul Graham, Ellis Jacobs, Rick Kristensen, Amy Lee, Rob Lytle and Gayle Rominger.


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