Commission wants Astra, downtown space

Herald file photo

From local sources

JASPER — The Jasper Community Arts Commission wants to take over the Astra Theatre and utilize other vacant space in downtown Jasper for the arts.

The commission approved its five-year strategic plan at its monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon. In the outline for facilities, the commission lists finding additional space in downtown Jasper and later taking over the Astra, the former theater on the Square that’s been closed since 2002.

“It’s all very exciting. Our board is so pumped up and excited,” Arts Director Kit Miracle said this morning. “We’re looking at taking over old spaces and reusing them and having a bigger presence in downtown Jasper.”

The additional space would likely be in one or more buildings not currently being used.

“A specific place has not been designated, but there are options,” commission President Mike Jones said this morning, mentioning off the top of his head the former Hoosier Desk and Jasper Veneer Mill buildings. “One of the suggestions to the city (in its downtown master plan) is to make some of the unused factories downtown and make them viable. We are embracing the city’s plan to grow the downtown and to be a part of the downtown.”

The commission will look for space for rotating and permanent art galleries, classrooms, special events, offices, a gift shop, a kitchen and studios.

“We’re aiming to move a lot of our operation downtown,” Miracle said. “Everything would move downtown except the main auditorium, which would stay out here” at the center currently on the Vincennes University Jasper Campus on the city’s southeast side.

If additional downtown space is obtained, the arts commission wants to work out a deal to take over the Astra.

“We’re pretty much the logical group for that project,” Miracle said. “That is what we do. We run theaters.”

The Astra is owned by Jerry and Doris Gutzweiler and has been on the market for sale at a cost of $165,000. The theater was built in 1937 and closed in September 2002.

There has been interest in the building lately. The City of Jasper’s master plan for downtown revitalization lists renovating the theater as one of the plan’s ideas. The Will Read and Sing For Food troupe, with the support of the Dubois County Community Foundation and local businesses, held two performances in the theater Sunday. More than 400 people attended the shows.

Since 2005, the arts commission has been looking to expand the arts center to accommodate more programming and to move to the center’s classes currently being held in rooms near the Jasper Municipal Pool.

“For a long time, we’ve been focused on our need to grow,” Jones said. “Instead of having tunnel vision (such as), ‘We must expand the arts center,’ this took us down another path we never through of before. When the idea of the Astra came up, there was a verve that I haven’t ever seen. Everybody — board members and staff — were really fired up and excited.”

The arts commission’s strategic plan calls for the center’s backstage-type events — the smaller, more intimate shows — to be held at the Astra. But the theater would be available for other public activities, like lectures, films and rentals.

“There are all kinds of possibilities,” Miracle said.

Arts center representatives have met with the Dubois County Community Foundation officials interested in saving the theater, Jones said. “We think the Jasper Community Arts Commission would be the perfect organization to run it,” he said.

Under the plan, the current center would be renovated to add staging space for the theater and additional restrooms. The timeline for upgrades to the current theater would be in 2018 or 2019.

Jones didn’t know for sure where the funding for the projects would come from.

“Because we are in an early state, everything is up in the air,” he said. “There may be grants; I don’t know. The private sector may be interested; I don’t know. The city may want to be a part of this; I don’t know. It might be a combination of all those things; I don’t know.”

What he does know is that the arts center running the Astra and moving into space downtown makes sense.

“It’s exciting in that it would use buildings that are not being used and help grown downtown Jasper,” he said.

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.