The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center is entering the new year with a new look, just in time for wintry evenings of intimate jazz.
The organization’s longtime home in downtown Gainesville’s historic train depot is undergoing cosmetic enhancements both inside and out to better serve its visitors.
Inside, the atrium and banquet hall — which is once again slated to morph into a jazz lounge with the commencement of the organization’s seasonal jazz series in January — have been brightened with a fresh, neutral color scheme, lending a more complementary backdrop to events and the visual arts.
According to Executive Director Pamela Williams-Lime, the organization is in the process of cataloging its private collection of artwork, which will be hung throughout the building for guests to admire.
The banquet hall is also awaiting new window treatments to better absorb sound without harming the overall acoustics of the space.
Outside, passersby in the coming weeks will notice crews sandblasting and repainting the fencing enclosing the grounds as well as the building’s exterior eaves and woodwork.
The facelift is long overdue, Williams-Lime said, with additional projects in the queue. The organization will chip away at them gradually, working within the confines of a “really strict budget, trying to keep the expense down but still accomplishing what we needed to accomplish,” Williams-Lime said. “We’re trying to prioritize based on the limited dollars that we have.”
Logistically, The Arts Council is bolstering its board of directors, which consists of 17 community leaders. Its bylaws allow for 26, and the organization is working to bring new and additional voices to the table to determine the direction of The Arts Council going forward.
According to Williams-Lime, the resounding feedback from the community suggests its members yearn to see the organization return to its roots as a collaborator with other arts-centric organizations.
“We seem to have sort of gotten a little bit away from that mission and vision and focused more on being a programming organization,” Williams-Lime said. “That’s a conversation that the board and some of the committees are starting to have, because without defining your mission and vision, you can’t point to, ‘What is it that we should be doing?’”
The former First United Methodist Church building on Green Street is also part of the discussion. The building, owned by The Arts Council, has sat dormant for nearly 20 years. The organization is wrapping up a facilities assessment to determine what needs to be done to revive the structure should the organization choose to pursue that route.
“There is no possibility that will not be entertained,” Williams-Lime said.
“You can’t have one conversation without having all the other conversations, and we want to engage the community to hear what they have to say, because it’s about what we do to serve the community. Their voice is really important in this.”
In the new year, the organization aims to host more community-focused, family-friendly events that don’t necessarily require an admission fee, Williams-Lime said, like the organization’s inaugural Oktoberfest hosted on the grounds this year — a smashing success that saw crowds of more than 1,500.
The event will recur in October 2023.
“The faces there were totally different than anything else that happened here earlier in the year — we saw younger people, we saw more diversity,” Williams-Lime said. “I’m really thrilled that people are so willing to be a part of what we’re doing, and also that they do want us to collaborate with the community in various ways. I think they’re as excited for the future of the organization as we are.”
As her first year in the director’s chair draws to a close, Williams-Lime looks toward 2023 with high hopes and an even greater commitment to connect the community with the arts.
“The community is very excited for the changes that they’re starting to see. They really would like us to collaborate with other organizations, whether they’re nonprofit organizations, with the city organizations that do events for the community and with businesses across the board. A lot of benefit can come to everybody through those collaborations. Those are the conversations that you really have to spend time having if you’re going to carve a successful path forward.”
Tickets to select Friday performances of the Evenings of Intimate Jazz Series are still available. The series’ fifth and final performance featuring the powerful brass, soaring reeds and toe-tapping rhythm of The Venue Jazz Orchestra is slated to take place outdoors in May, opening it to unlimited ticket sales.
For tickets and additional information, visit theartscouncil.net.
The Arts Council is finalizing the lineup for its summer concert series, which in the past has featured three or four concerts; in 2023, the performances are slated to more than double in number.
“You’ll have a couple of big concerts every month, and we’re going to diversify the kinds of concerts that we’re having over the course of the summer,” Williams-Lime said. “We really want to outreach into the community to say, hopefully, that there’s some concert here over the course of the summer that will appeal to anybody.”