Cultural center sees successful opening

Herald photos by Kylie Schepers
Patrons utilize table space inside the Jasper Public Library on Wednesday at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center in Jasper. The library inside the cultural center opened to the public Friday. Jasper Community Arts exhibits have been open since Jan. 7.


JASPER — Although Wednesday afternoon at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center was quiet compared to the rush of the weekend, plenty of Dubois County residents still wandered the aisles of the library and admired the art exhibits.

Melissa Day, from Jasper, wandered past dozens of bookshelves looking for a new memoir to check out and read before she returns to the center with her kids later in the week.

Day, who has five children ranging from a high school freshman to a third-grader, said Wednesday was her first time visiting the new cultural center.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It has so much more room than the old building, so I think it’s going to be a lot more comfortable for the kids.”

The Jasper Public Library opened to the public Friday, making the new cultural center fully open, including the Jasper Community Arts sections. Exhibits have been open since Jan. 7.

Library Director Christine Golden said more than 1,200 people visited the new library in its first two days. People called from all over the country — Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and more — to ask if the center was open.

Andy Hoffman of Jasper looks at a painting in the Group Exhibit at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center on Wednesday.

“I kind of expected it, because it seemed like the most asked question in town for the past few weeks was, ‘When is the library opening?’ ” Golden said. “I’m just excited to see those expectations come true.”

For now, only 100 socially-distanced visitors are allowed in the library at one time and are encouraged to stay for no more than an hour. Golden said that even during busy parts of the opening weekend, it never felt like the library was reaching capacity or being unsafe.

Arts Director Kyle Rupert said the community arts opening has gone well, too. About 40 people visited the exhibits this past Sunday — sometimes, at the old location, exhibits would only see that many visitors in an entire month, he said.

“So far, the reception has been nothing short of incredible,” Rupert said.

Visual Arts Coordinator Emily Colucci Peak said people have bought pieces from several local artists, so far. Many people visiting from out of town are coming for the John Mellencamp: Paintings and Assemblages exhibit, but most people end up seeing several or all of the exhibits.

Golden said the best part of being at the new center is that the library and community arts visitors can mix and learn about each other. For example, some who come in to get a new library card will see that the art exhibits are open and visit them, as well. Many who have visited the exhibits so far have never been to one before.

“I think a lot of people in Jasper have no idea what type of talent we have here,” Golden said.

Although the center likely won’t have a ribbon-cutting ceremony until later in the spring, its soft opening — which has been a decade in the making — is an accomplishment in itself.

It all began in 2000, when the library board ordered a study on overcrowding in the Jasper Public Library. It wasn’t until 2004 that the board began the early stages of planning an expansion.

The board continually debated several possible sites for the new library, including the old Jasper Middle School gym and a site on South Newton Street, which caused tension among the board.

Throughout the 2010s, the library stuck to smaller renovations and the addition of an annex while it ultimately decided on the Hoosier Desk location on West Third Street to build the center. Both the library and arts commission boards began to put money toward the building. In 2015, the city joined the project.

In September 2015, the library board voted to officially pursue the new cultural center. By that time the next year, the community got a first look at what the 30,000-square-foot facility would look like.

In November 2016, the library’s referendum was approved. Library and city officials cheered and hugged each other in celebration that after decades of failed plans, the cultural center was finally happening.

In July 2018, the center was named the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center after Jim and Pat Thyen who offered a $1.7 matching grant, and the historic Hoosier Desk building was demolished soon after.

In April 2019, after nearly a decade of planning, a groundbreaking ceremony began construction on the new building.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic put several wrenches in the center’s progress, it still was built on schedule and quietly opened this January, during a time when many have been experiencing pandemic burnout and craved something exciting to look forward to in the city.

There were no celebrations or extra programming, yet visitors flocked to the new location anyway.

“No part of me ever envisioned I was going to secretly open the doors at 9 a.m.,” Golden said. “But this has been so many years in the making ... I’m just excited to see it become a reality.”

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