Grant would bring needed updates to arts center


JASPER — What happens to the Jasper Arts Center when the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center opens in the fall of 2020?

In short: The current arts center isn’t going away any time soon. Not much will change for the longstanding building at Vincennes University Jasper Campus, which has housed arts-related programming for more than four decades.

The Jasper Arts Department is actually taking steps to make the space an even better one.

A $10,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts could kickstart the design of new accessibility features at the facility — something the aging space has struggled with for years.

“What we’re trying to do, and all these things go back to the [Jasper Community Arts] mission statement, which is to encourage and stimulate an appreciation of and participation in arts,” said Jasper Arts Director Kyle Rupert. “And these accessibility issues can be and are barriers for some. And it’s important to address those and make a point of addressing those.”

The department has yet to receive official word from the NEA that it is receiving the grant, but it has passed through several key stages of review, and now awaits only a final approval. On Thursday, Rupert said “things are looking good.”

The grant would cover design fees, but not construction. The city’s match would come from the arts department’s building fund.

Among the issues Rupert referred to are the general lack of restrooms — especially on stage level, where there are none — as well as the size of the restrooms currently in the building.

“It goes beyond just convenience,” Rupert said of the need for bathrooms on the stage level. “It’s an accessibility issue. There should be restrooms on that level, especially when we have our Backstage Series. People sit up on the stage, and that prevents anybody who would need that access ... they may not even think about participating, because they may think, ‘Well, I can’t. I have these obstacles in my path.’”

The difficulty of reaching the auditorium’s front seating area is also a concern. It can only be reached by walking down stairs or through an entrance on the side of the building, which leads to an area often occupied by performers and artists.

“Granted, that’s how things have been done,” Rupert said. “But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t address those with a design update to the building to eliminate that.”

Even after the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center opens to the public, the Jasper Arts Center will still host all of the department’s main performances. It will still be available for rent for events like WBDC’s Country Showdown, Dance Central’s showcase, Actors Community Theatre productions and so on.

The new cultural center will feature a small black box theater that will serve as a multi-purpose room, but it will not have a stage as prominent as the one at the current arts center facility. The biggest change — “and the degree to which this change will occur is still in flux,” Rupert noted — will be related to art gallery exhibits, which will move from the Krempp Gallery in the old space to the cultural center. Department employees will also move their offices to the new facility.

Rupert said if the competitive grant is ultimately awarded to his department, it will be a recognition by the National Endowment for the Arts that what the city is doing is worthwhile.

“It should be taken as a compliment,” Rupert said of receiving the grant. “And as recognition that we’re on the right path, what we’re trying to do.”

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