In the coming months, The Arts Council and its executive director, Gladys Wyant, will have to do something to change things up.
Its fiscal year ends at the end of June and with attendance numbers at events sitting fairly stagnant, Wyant said they’re looking to millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, for advice.
That’s why she plans on forming a committee of young people from the community to help bring in other young people. She’s hoping they’ll be introduced to and interested in some of the current events the council hosts as well as offer advice on other things they want to see. She already knows bringing in millennials starts with the renovation of The Arts Council Performing Arts Complex at the corner of Green and Academy streets
“We try to have events that reach a wide variety of people,” Wyant said. “And we’re reaching the younger people right now through the school system, but not nearly enough. And millennials, we’re still trying to find out what makes them tick, what they want.”
The Performing Arts Complex used to be home to a Methodist church until 1985 when it became a Presbyterian church. Eventually, a limited liability company was formed to purchase the building and it was donated to The Arts Council.
From the outside, the Performing Arts Complex is all brick. It has two large bell towers that stand high above the ground. There are three arched doorways and a large stained-glass window that’s original to the building at the front.
“The building is a real landmark,” said Richard Hunt, former president of The Arts Council and current member on the board of directors. “You see pictures of Gainesville in postcards and whatever and that building shows up a lot.”
On the inside, the walls used to be covered with plaster, but those walls are exposed now, showing off the brick that’s always been underneath. And underneath the old, red, faded carpet is wood flooring that will eventually be refinished and exposed, too. There’s a large dome in the center of the ceiling that immediately stands out and there’s a balcony at the back that adds seating. Wyant is hoping to bring in theater seats and maybe even add in some of the old pews, or at least parts of them, that used to go row by row in the sanctuary.
“It is very distinct,” Hunt said. “And I think it can be a real asset to downtown Gainesville, but to the whole town as well.”
Soon after the property was donated, The Arts Council began having bands — the Zac Brown Band being one of them — perform in the auditorium. Interactive Neighborhood for Kids moved into the educational wing of the church for a few years until it outgrew it, and the parsonage slowly began to be updated for smaller events.
Ed Waller, owner of Green’s Grocery in
Gainesville, was at that Zac Brown Band concert. He said the atmosphere in the building is great because the sound “bounces off the walls.” He compared it to the Tabernacle, a music venue in Atlanta that served as a church for more than 70 years. Even though the sizes don’t compare, he said it’s the same concept.
“It’s just an iconic place, so it’s nice to see something like The Arts Council take over something like that,” Waller said. “It’s a historic building, do something good with it. That’s what I say at least.”
But there was one big problem: the church didn’t have a sprinkler system and former Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said one had to be added before any other events could be held there. Getting that done, along with other renovations to the auditorium and other areas of the church has taken a while and are still about three years away from being done, especially with the lack of funding the council is getting.
“Our people are getting older, and the money that we’ve been able to raise in the past, a lot of those people have passed on or their attorneys or their children are in charge of the money and they have other interests,” Wyant said.
That’s a big reason she’s reaching out to millennials. The Arts Council has to bring in more guests and new guests in order to stay alive.
“Twenty years from now, we may go out of business because you haven’t built the program with younger people in mind,” Wyant said.
But she wants to make sure the council remains a quality organization with quality events. So she said she doesn’t want the fine arts aspect to go away. She just wants to add programs to reach the rest of the community, a community she said is of “all ages and ethnic diversity.”
“I’m excited about getting young people interested again,” Wyant said. “When I started with this organization, I was young. So the programs have kind of grown with me.”
Wyant said she’s been around The Arts Council for a while, so people often ask when she’s retiring. She doesn’t have plans to do that any time soon, especially with all the changes she sees coming in the near future. She said she wants to make sure she has her hand in all of it to ensure things are done the way they should be.
“I have too many things on my bucket list to finish before I retire because I have personally raised money to do some of these projects,” Wyant said. “And I have to make sure those monies are spent the way they were given.”