Perry Arts Center looks for focus

chwright@macon.comJune 23, 2013 

PerryArtsCenter

The Perry Arts Center, located at 1121 Macon Road, is popular as an events center, but that popularity undercuts its function as an arts center.

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The Perry Arts Center has strayed from its original intent, and now officials are trying to decide on a clear focus.

“Because it has become so popular as an events place, and there’s such a diversity of the people who want to use it, you need to make a decision which direction it’s going to go in,” City Manager Lee Gilmour said.

Gilmour recently presented City Council with two options for the former National Guard armory. It will either be changed to an events center with limited arts focus or remain an arts center with limited events. The decision affects improvements choices and the role of the advisory board.

“The site provides a good location and is viable for either one of those two activities,” Gilmour said. “But the two activities themselves have a tendency to be in conflict.”

About eight years ago, the National Guard consolidated and donated its location to Perry. Gilmour said City Council considered a few options then: a public works building, a youth center run by an outside agency or an arts center.

“The final use was a proposal from the Downtown Development Authority for it to be developed as an arts center,” Gilmour said.

But the DDA hasn’t maintained management of the building. The authority soon leased it to the Uptown Perry Partnership. About five years ago, City Council decided to take over the building after replacing its roof.

While the initial purpose was to display art, people were drawn to it as a rental space for events. Groups like the high bay area for wedding receptions and parties, Gilmour said.

“And it’s relatively cheap,” Gilmour said.

The main hall can be rented for half a day at $80 or a whole day at $136.

Meanwhile, the arts function hasn’t gone away. Studio space can be rented for $30 to $105 per month. And the New Harmonies Traveling Smithsonian Exhibit of U.S. musical influences and the arts exhibit for the city’s annual Dogwood Festival have been some uses in the past few years.

But Gilmour said the artists sometimes have concerns about leaving their art unsupervised in a place where events are held.

Depending on which primary use council wants, improvements will also differ. Not to mention the way it’s managed and what the Perry Arts Center Advisory Board will do.

Gilmour presented details for each option to council this week, based on discussions at a March planning session. It could come up in discussions at a special-called meeting this week but isn’t on the agenda as a main topic, Gilmour said.

Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said he’s not sold the center needs to pledge allegiance to one focus or another, though he conceded a solid direction could help.

“We’re not doing the community a favor if we restrict it just because we want to call it an arts center,” Faircloth said. “But if we’re using it as an arts center, then we need to do that.”

He said the building worked well as an arts center that holds arts-related events. But on the other hand, it’s a space bigger and different than any other events venue in the city.

Faircloth said once council makes a decision, the advisory board’s role will need to be better defined.

“If we keep it as an arts center, I don’t think we need to change (the board),” Faircloth said. “But if we make it an events center, we may want to tweak the board to bring on people with different expertise ... in order to conform to whatever we want it to be.”

Gilmour said neither option will reap a major profit for the city, and neither is more viable than the other.

“It’s an excellent building,” Faircloth said. “It’s being put to pretty good use by the community for various events. It’s performing as was intended.”

It’s just time to give this young city building a clear direction, Gilmour said.

“It’s grown, and it’s maturing,” Gilmour said. “Well, it needs to decide what it needs to be.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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