Cultural center on track despite COVID-19

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Construction continues on the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center in in Jasper on Thursday. The goal is for cultural center to be completed by fall 2020.


JASPER — By the end of the year, Jasper Public Library patrons will be able to sit on the second level of the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center and look out a window at the Patoka River and the Jasper City Mill.

On the other side of the roughly 30,000-square-foot building located at the corner of Third and Main streets, Jasper Community Arts patrons will have three art galleries to peruse.

While much of the county is on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction on the cultural center is progressing according to schedule and the project is on track for substantial completion this fall. Right now, crews are completing masonry work along the exterior, installing windows and even drywalling parts of the arts wing.

“It’s really cool to see the drywall up and get a feel for the space,” said Jasper Community Arts Director Kyle Rupert.

Rupert and Jasper Public Library Director Christine Golden walked through the building last weekend and left with feelings of awe. The building that for months has been two-dimensional drawings has come to the three-dimensional world, and with the interior wall framing complete, Rupert and Golden no longer have to envision where certain rooms will be in the building. They can see them.

Walking into the library’s side of the building — which sits nearest the Patoka River — a v-shaped, double staircase leads from the main floor to the second level. Looking around at all the spaces partitioned off by the metal framing, it’s clear that the new library space will have many more rooms than the current one. And lots more space.

“I’m most excited about no longer having to say the words, ‘We can’t accommodate that,’” Golden said.

The Thyen-Clark Cultural Center continues to undergo construction in Jasper on Thursday.

With more meeting rooms than the current library and more flexible space, Golden expects to be able to accommodate almost any use or event patrons may want.

The arts department will be able to offer more, too. The new galleries will offer more hanging space for art exhibits, and the higher ceilings will open JCAC up to exhibits that wouldn’t fit in the current space. There will also be specialized workshop spaces for popular workshops, such as pottery, and individual studio spaces local artists can rent.

“The opportunities are going to be more varied than they were before,” Rupert said.

With new possibilities comes the need for new procedures and hours of behind-the-scenes work. That’s what Golden, Rupert and their respective staffs have been working on behind the scenes. One focus is general operations and how to manage that with two entities in a single building.

“There are a lot of details that go into that,” Rupert said.

Golden and Rupert want to make sure the public feels like they’re in one building when they come to the cultural center, not two separate places. To reach that goal, they’ll need to develop a unified set of guidelines for patrons overall while still meeting the needs of individual spaces.

Plans for moving into the new space are also in the early stages. That has become a bittersweet process, Golden said, because it comes with the realization that the current location won’t get many of the ‘lasts’ the staff was looking forward to. With the stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines in place, Golden and her staff are planning to do this year’s summer reading program virtually this year. Summer reading is one of the library’s biggest events of the year.

“This was going to be the last summer reading at our current location, and we’ve probably had our last, big featured program in the theater there, too,” Golden said. “Next time we have them, we’ll be in a new space.”

While there is some sadness, the project has given staff members at the library and arts center something to look forward to while much of their programming has had to be canceled or postponed. They’re hearing from patrons that the project has been a source of hopeful excitement for many in the community, too.

“It’s coming together,” Golden said. “And we’re posting about it [on Facebook] to give the community something to look forward to.”

More on