With gallery space where artworks will be sold in front, backed by two ballet studios and a black box theater, a large building that previously held a small shoe repair shop has been transformed into the first of three envisioned new facilities of the Averitt Center for the Arts.
For now simply the Center for Performing Arts, the building at 41 W. Main St. is available for naming in honor of a major donor as Averitt Center supporters campaign to raise funds. Completing the three new centers, as renovations of existing downtown buildings, is projected to require about $1.8 million over several years, but not all of it is expected to come from donations.
“This is what we’re considering the first phase of our capital campaign,” Averitt Center Executive Director Tim Chapman explained, standing in the front gallery of the West Main building as the noise of a circular saw underlined his remarks.
“The purpose for this facility is to meet the demands of the programs that we are offering,” he said.
Over the years, the Averitt Center, which celebrated its 10th season in 2013-14, has evolved its mission to include more arts instruction and youth activities. Its dance, youth theater, Art After Hours and other programs now serve more than 500 children and teenagers each week.
So the center’s staff and board saw the demand outgrowing the existing spaces, Chapman said. Those include the Averitt’s headquarters in the historic Bank of Statesboro building, the adjoining Emma Kelly Theater on East Main Street, and a two-story building on Vine Street now used for dance studios.
“We wanted not only to expand the footprint, but to expand it large enough so that we could continue to grow in it over a period of time,” Chapman said.
As part of Phase 1, the Center for Performing Arts on West Main will soon receive the dance programs, which currently enroll 183 students from age 3 up, and the youth theater program, with 118 participants from age 5 up, according to Averitt Center Program Director Tony Phillips.
The relocation of these programs will allow the Vine Street building to be transformed during Phase 2.
West Main Street
But for now, the focus is on West Main, where the public can tour the Center for Performing Arts at the ribbon cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. March 20.
The two dance studios will have ballet bars and mirrors along the walls, sprung floors that give a little, and observation windows in the corridor where parents can look in on classes. Electronic screens for instructional use are another planned feature.
The new “grand” studio is significantly larger than the Averitt’s largest dance studio now in use. The new “demi” studio is smaller, but still larger than the smallest current studio.
Most of the theater’s walls are black. But what defines a black box theater is that its stage and seating can be rearranged. Besides a traditional setup, seating can be placed on multiple sides, even all around with the stage in the middle. It could be turned into a dinner theatre with small tables.
“It’s a perfect venue for youth theater, but it’s also a perfect venue for small one- and two-man shows for community theater,” Chapman said. “It’s also wonderful for comedians, artists that work acoustical sets. It’s great for poetry readings, small lectures … readings from a text.”
The black box theater will also be available for use by other organizations, he said.
The gallery at the Averitt Center headquarters is primarily an exhibition space. But displaying works for sale by artists will be the main function of the new gallery in the Center for Performing Arts, Chapman said.
The Averitt Center bought 41 W. Main from the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. The authority wanted the building’s front to remain a commercial space, DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew confirmed.
The Averitt Center will have invested about $400,000 in the project, Chapman said. With the purchase of the property, the arts center also became the owner of a small separate building to its west and, as the first step, had this refurbished as the new home of W&J Shoe Repair and Leathercraft, owned and operated by Sheila and Jimmy Raymond, who lease the shop from the Averitt Center.
Jimmy Raymond said he looks forward to repairing more dance shoes.
Noting that West Main has traditionally been a street where African-American entrepreneurs set up shop, Chapman said that the Center for Performing Arts will include features meant to celebrate African-Americans who have been instrumental in the arts locally.
Meanwhile, 41 W. Main’s outer corridor will house an art installation that Jason McCoy has made of wood salvaged during the renovation. It incorporates the names of Averitt Center patrons.
Phases 2 and 3
In Phase 2, the two-story building on Vine Street will become the Roxie Remley Center for Fine Arts.
From East Main Street, this building is behind Georgia Southern University’s City Campus. As the “Art Incubator,” it is part of the FabLab project funded in part by a $1.1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.
Although the GSU programs aimed at fostering business innovation have received most of the attention, the Averitt Center was included in the grant application, and its new studios will be tied into the campus by a covered alleyway.
Plans call for a large ceramics studio and a painting and drawing studio on the ground floor. The second floor will have studios that will be available for rent by artists. To complete its plans, the Averitt Center will have costs beyond what the grant covers.
Phase 3 will be the Thurman Lanier Center for Art Education. For this center, the organization has a name and a vision, but not yet a building.
The drive has been in a “silent phase,” calling on potential major donors but not yet the general public since early autumn, reports campaign chairman Jack Orman, an Averitt Center board member.
“We have already raised a little over $200,000 over a five-year commitment, and we have over $100,000 of that already in,” Orman said during a visit to 41 W. Main. “Today was a really super day. I took two commitments today and it was $15,000.”
The day after the March 20 public opening, the new Center for Performing Arts will host a formal event called Arts at the West End for invited guests, including substantial donors.
After that, the campaign will begin to reach out to a wider public. For now, the goal is to finish and pay for the first two phases. Only when that happens will the volunteers begin the push for the third phase, Orman said.
That third phase alone is expected to cost $1.2 million. But not all of the $1.8 million campaign total will necessarily be raised locally, Chapman emphasized.
“If you can show a foundation, for example, that you have commitments of a certain amount, what you’re doing is using that money to leverage foundation dollars or other monies outside of the community to make that final goal,” he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.