(October 20, 2016) After a year of research and preparation, work has officially begun on the Cornelius Arts and Community Center, a 3-year project to build an arts-based hub for the community and the region. The center’s new board members have met, filed the 501(c) 3 papers, and with the Town of Cornelius identified a possible site for the building.
“This project has been on the radar for a while, but now we’ve pushed the button on execution,” said Greg Wessling, who served as chair for the strategic working group charged with examining options and researching models for the center.
In 2013 voters approved a $20 million bond package, of which $4 million was designated for building some sort of inter-town arts and cultural center in the Old Town part of Cornelius (east of I-77). About a year ago, Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis initiated a working group of 14 local residents and community leaders to begin realizing this goal and for the last 11 months the group met monthly, formed six subcommittees, and expanded to 19 members, bringing on people with additional expertise in various fields to contribute to the subcommittees.
“We had great volunteer help, each with great backgrounds and experience,” Wessling said. The chief operating officer for the Morris Group of companies, his own background in business and real estate was complemented by others working in the arts, legal, government, and recreation sectors, among others.
During their exploration period committee members surveyed local citizens to gauge interest and participation in various arts and cultural offerings, visited other arts centers in the region, culled data from the last 11 years at the existing Cornelius Arts Center, and used all of the information to define what the future center could (and could not) be.
The vision for the space includes arts and cultural resources for all ages – children, young adults, adults and seniors – offered seven days a week. The town is considering buying the land off Catawba Avenue just west of the Police Department, in front of Oak Street Mill and across the street from the live-work units, and the board has plans for the facility to include a flexible theatre space; ceramics, dance, and artist studios; art classrooms; gallery spaces; and more. In addition to its art offerings for all ages, the center will host lecture series, artist residencies, film screenings, and even offer some food service. The foothold for the brand will likely be ceramics, Wessling said, because of the already strong precedent – high levels of interest and skill in the area.
“We think with the footprint we have, the support we have, and the talent we have, we can even have a national presence for ceramics,” Wessling said.
The arts center project already is reaching well beyond its yet-to-be-built walls. Parallel and complimentary to plans for the Cornelius Arts and Community Center are plans for a proposed downtown arts district, a mixed-use cultural destination with galleries, theaters, music venues and public gathering spaces, as well as retail and recreational establishments. Following Wessling’ s presentation to the Cornelius Town Board Oct. 3, in which he outlined the committee’s findings, recommendations and overall vision for the center, Planning Director Wayne Herron presented ideas for creating an arts overlay district in the area around the arts center in Old Town Cornelius. Wessling said.
“The district is a big-picture concept, and the center is the hub,” Wessling said. He and the other arts center committee members were pleased to see Herron’s plans, which also include a “festival street” on Catawba Ave. from Meridian/Mulberry Street to Old Oak Street.
“It’s exactly what we hoped to hear and see,” Wessling said. “We never thought of this as just a center for Cornelius; we have always thought of it as a center for the region.”
The arts center board aims to hire its first executive director by December and the building project should be completed by the fourth quarter of 2019. Additional information can be found on the Town’s website. Here is a link to the October 3 Town Board Meeting which included the formal presentation.
About the contributor:
Christina is a local multimedia content producer and digital strategist. Formerly the editor of CorneliusNews.net, she is thrilled to work with the OTC team to once again help tell the ever-evolving Cornelius story. She lives nearby with her husband, Nate, and a small menagerie of 2- and 4-legged beasties.