Following Dr. David McKellar’s generous offer of the Hattiesburg American Building in November, the HAC (and the community of artists and visionaries who share our dream) has been on a wild ride. One minute we are coasting on enthusiasm—looking at floor plans, poking our noses around the vacated building, preparing proposals for the city, and dreaming of the almost audible giggles, dance steps, and songs that could so easily fill up the cavernous hallways and warehouse spaces on Main Street. The next minute our dreams evaporate on the horizon like some Loony Toons desert oasis—35,000 square feet, it turns out, comes with a price tag and responsibilities well beyond the capacity of the HAC’s already stretched-thin two-person administrative staff.
Whether or not this project materializes, we are very enthusiastic that the work we have begun over the past year will, one day, be put to use. The following is a timeline of our crazy year!
- November 2015: Dr. McKellar extends the initial offer of the Hattiesburg American Building for the purpose of opening a community arts center. The HAC begins to look at blueprints and plan a course of action.
- February 2016: After determining that the HAC could not support renovations and building maintenance, several members of the arts council and Sarah Newton (an acclaimed local architect who put together a compelling conceptual blueprint) met with Mayor Johnny Dupree and a handful of his advisers to discuss a municipally supported venue.
- March 2016: Members of the Hattiesburg Arts Council pitch their proposal to the city and urge them to take ownership of the building while allowing the HAC to manage programming. The presentation included Sarah Newton’s blueprint, a selection of similar model programs around the country, and letters of support from HPSD Foundation, JoRT, WCU, USM, SMAA, and many other organizations. The proposal also included a 3-stage renovation schedule spanning 10 years. Although the majority of City Council representatives and Mayor Johnny Dupree expressed excitement about the project, there were serious concerns raised at the meeting about whether or not the city’s budget will be able to accommodate this ambitious undertaking.
- April 2016: The Hattiesburg American Building serves as a site for an intercollegiate design charrette. Architecture and design students from LSU, USM and University of Louisiana- Lafayette participate in the competition, and over the course of a day produce stunning blueprints and conceptual plans. All students involved had an incredible time showing their skills and learning about the unique cultural offerings in Downtown Hattiesburg.
- June 2016: Mayor Johnny Dupree looks into securing New Markets Tax Credits (financial instruments which help to stimulate private investments through tax incentives) to help finance a number of projects around the city, including the Community Arts Center. The decision to pursue tax credit options was passed by the City Council on July 19th, 2016.
- July 2016: We distributed our Community Arts Center Interest and Resources Survey and received over 71 enthusiastic responses! We heard from artists, businesses, non-profits, and community members- all of whom shared a heartfelt love of our thriving arts community and a yearning for more opportunities to get together and create!
- August 2016: We guided over 40 of our survey respondents and stakeholders on a tour of the Hattiesburg American Building. Speakers at the event included Sarah Newton, who created the first conceptual blueprint for the CAC; Emily Adcock, whose graduate studies in the Economic Development Department at USM focused on the market feasibility of such a community arts center; Abigal Lenz Allen, our smART Space Coordinator; and Rebekah Stark Johnson, the executive director of the arts council. Where some may have seen bare walls and hopelessly empty spaces, our tourists saw design studios, darkrooms, arts incubators and black box theaters!
- UPDATE: City council continues to work towards securing tax credits, moving towards funding the CAC! Read Councilwoman Mary Dryden’s enthusiastic interview.