What’s new at ArtsinStark? Sculptural window, grant program changes, green space project

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  • ArtsinStark, a nonprofit advocate for the local arts community, met its fundraising goal for 2023 with more than $1 million.
  • Among the new things happening with the agency is a $308,000 sculptural window at the Cultural Center for the Arts.
  • Plans include a green space park area along Ninth Street NW in downtown Canton scheduled for completion in summer 2024.

CANTON − When entering the north side of the Cultural Center for the Arts, it’s impossible not to notice a large, artistically stylized window.

Sweeping in size, the window features geometric designs, sculptural aesthetics and sharp angles in a collection of glass and other materials. At nighttime, a high-tech lighting system illuminates the window in a multitude of colors and paints it with light.

“You’ll look at that building and go, ‘That’s where art happens,'” said David Whitehill, CEO and president of ArtsinStark, a nonprofit agency and advocate for the local arts community. “And it also functions because it adds space to the Cultural Center Theater lobby.”

The sculptural window is also reflective of changes underway at ArtsinStark: A new strategy and guidelines have been established for the agency’s longtime grant program; a green space and park project is expected to be completed next summer, following the recent demolition of the former ArtsinStark offices; the agency also has plans for the former Ziegler Tire building; a consultant’s study and survey were finished; and various renovations and maintenance work have been completed at the Cultural Center.

Here’s a closer look at those projects and plans based on information gathered from recent interviews with Whitehill and Christopher Goff, chairman of the ArtsinStark board of directors.

A new sculptural window is among the renovations and upgrades at the Cultural Center for the Arts in downtown Canton. The window features an artistic design and adds space to the exit area for the theater.

What’s the story behind the new window?

Whitehill said the window both adds a distinguishing feature to the Cultural Center’s exterior and serves practical purposes.

The Cultural Center, 1001 Market Ave. N, is next to the Canton Memorial Civic Center and houses the Canton Museum of Art, Cultural Center Theater, Avenue Arts, Canton Ballet and Sing Stark. Owned and operated by ArtsinStark, the Cultural Center also hosts weddings, an annual holiday market and other events.

Lighting up the window at night adds brilliant color, and hues can be themed for the holidays and special events, Whitehill said. Mica flakes or chips are also embedded in the structure encasing the window.

The window project cost $308,557, he said.

Funding for the window project came through a roughly $1 million grant from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which oversees the capital improvement funds appropriated by the general assembly for cultural facilities, Whitehill explained.

Maintenance work and renovations at the Cultural Center totaled roughly $1.4 million over the course of the last two years, including $400,000 spent on repairs and maintenance of the parking deck. No money from ArtsinStark’s annual fundraising campaign has been used for the window and other projects, Whitehill said.

“The (state) funding allowed us a rare opportunity to address one of our strategic objectives, enhancing our campus and facilities,” Whitehill said.

“Most of our investment has been to address areas of critical need, parking decks, boilers, steam and a roof,” he said. “We have also invested in venue enhancements, technology upgrades and a sizable sculptural window.”

The $1.4 million includes both grant funds from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and proceeds from ArtsinStark’s endowment fund, which is “dedicated to advance our efforts in maintenance, repairs, and essential capital projects on the Cultural Center campus,” Whitehill said.

A brick wall previously existed in the space now occupied by the window.

Measuring 28 feet high, the window added 140 square feet of interior space for a larger and more appealing exit area from the Cultural Center theater space, Whitehill said.

“It was dark and a choke point,” Whitehill said of the previous area where audience members left shows. “I think it provides a better experience.”

From inside the Cultural Center, “you get to go inside the sculpture,” he said.

At some point, tables and chairs may be placed in the newly-carpeted interior area. Book signings, holiday displays and Pro Football Hall of Fame-themed exhibits are among the potential uses for the new space.

“It’s fantastic,” Whitehill said of the window. “The idea behind it was to open up the building more to create interest to really draw people in.

“The Cultural Center campus is really the gateway into downtown,” he said. “This is just a prominent visible location.”

Heading the project were John Patrick Picard Architect and Fred Olivieri Construction, both Stark County-based companies.

Goff, ArtsinStark board chairman, said he’s a big supporter of the window project.

Asked about potential critics, he said: “No matter what you do, everyone will have different opinions, and you can’t please everyone. So you do your best to design and construct something that is consistent with the architecture and pleasing to the eye, and at the end of the day, some people may love it and some people may have a different opinion.”

Cultural Center upgrades

Other upgrades and improvements have been made at the Cultural Center building.

Those include new carpeting in the Cultural Center Theater lobby and new overhead lighting with an artistic flair. The boiler system (believed to be original from the building’s opening in 1970) was replaced with a modern and more efficient heating system.

New doors were installed at the gallery of the Canton Museum of Art that are accessible for people with disabilities, a project that was long overdue, he said.

Of the maintenance projects and enhancements at the Cultural Center, Whitehill said: “This is a start, and hopefully this will excite and energize a community to rally around its largest cultural asset in the community.”

A three-phase cultural asset study was conducted by Webb Management Services, a national company with representation in Ohio that provides consulting services to the arts and cultural industries. The review included an assessment of the Cultural Center campus.

The viability and long-term future of the Cultural Center will be reviewed, said Goff, who noted that an ultimate decision is years away.

“We’re going to have to come up with a long-term strategic plan,” he said. “And whether it’s reinvesting in the current structure or building a different structure, either will require a capital campaign.

“We haven’t even really had any substantive discussions about which … path to take forward.”

Changes to the ArtsinStark grant program

The 2023 ArtsinStark fundraising campaign is primarily completed. An internal goal was surpassed, raising between $1 million and $2 million, Whitehill said.

Changes to how applicants apply for ArtsinStark funding will take effect in the next grant cycle.

“We took a really hard look at our grant program,” Whitehill said. “Funding is really about the future. I think there were greater opportunities to help build our community through our funding programs.”

What arts groups receive grants?Theater, dance, symphony, museum groups brace for ArtsinStark cuts

Four areas of focus have been identified: Arts and education; arts and health; arts and regional vitality; and arts and tourism.

Moving forward, grants will be awarded in two categories: the Arts Build and Arts Impact programs. Arts Build replaces the previously existing major operating grants category that traditionally was allocated to major arts organizations such as Canton Ballet, Canton Palace Theatre, Massillon Museum and the Canton Symphony Orchestra.

Whitehill believes the new grant program will create “greater equity in the distribution of the funding,” as well as a greater diversity of recipients.

Emphasizing a countywide approach, ArtsinStark also can now provide funding for a greater number of organizations than it has previously,” Goff said.

Describing the new strategies and guidelines as a “big shift,” Whitehill said the process included input from the cultural assets study, which totaled around 200 interviews with community members, patrons of the arts, government leaders and leaders of nonprofit organizations.

Said Goff: “I think we gained from having that third party (perspective).”

As for the criteria, Whitehill summarized: “Artistic excellence is no longer enough just in general. It’s more about how arts go to work in our community.”

For more details about the grants and the application process, go to https://artsinstark.com/grants/.

Green space project includes knocking down ArtsinStark office

Prior to last week’s demolition, the ArtsinStark offices on Ninth Street at Cleveland Avenue NW had been empty for several months. The organization’s administrative staff have relocated to the Cultural Center for the Arts.

The foundation of the ArtsinStark building was cracked and a new roof was needed. Investing more money in the building wasn’t prudent, Whitehill said.

“Our goal is to completely remake Ninth Street from Cleveland to Market,” he said. “It’s beautifying an important corner of our downtown.”

Funding for the green space development project includes a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The total green space project is estimated at $675,000, Whitehill said. Other funding for the green space development includes the city’s planning and zoning departments, Stark Community Foundation, Marathon Petroleum Corporation Foundation, Lemmon Development, KeyBank, Canton for All People and Crossroads United Methodist Church, and the Henry and Louise Timken Foundation.

Once remade into a park area, the roughly two acres of public and accessible green space will be used for art-related activities, festivals, community gatherings, live music, summer camps and outdoor learning.

“The activities in the Cultural Center can go on in the outdoor space,” Whitehill said of the warmer months.

Picnic tables and benches will be features. Rotating art installations are planned. So are restrooms.

The project also will extend the walkable portions of downtown Canton northward.

Ziegler Tire previously vacated its site at Ninth and Market Avenue N. That building will remain and be reused, Goff said.

“The green space … will be a great area for arts education,” he said. “And then the Ziegler Tire building … we have some big plans for that building with another organization that’s in the arts.”

Whitehill declined to elaborate on the plans for the former Ziegler building; announcements will be made later, he said.

Reach Ed at ebalint@gannett.com

On Twitter @ebalintREP

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