About 20 community members met this week with Mayor Ann Thane to explore the idea of using the former St. Mary’s Church as an arts center.
“The building is fabulous,” Thane said at the outset of the meeting in the building at East Main Street and Vrooman Avenue. But, she suggested that discussion be limited to a defined mission because “we can’t be all things to all people.”
In response, the group tried on Tuesday to condense the many possible options for the building into one concise mission statement.
From the start, ideas shifted toward youth for reasons expressed by one of the young people present.
“Schools always ignore the arts,” said 16-year-old Xavier Aleman, who attends Amsterdam High School. ”They’re the first thing that goes in budget cuts. This could offer kids the chance to learn the arts at their own pace, not just painting but writing, poetry and theater.”
With the idea of attracting youth on the table, Thane suggested converting the empty lot behind the building from a playground to a skate park, which would cost about $30,000; there are no other skate parks in the area.
On the idea of the arts center as a gathering place for youth, Thane brought up safety.
“It’s a myth about the East End being dangerous,” Thane said. “It’s as safe as the West End.”
Most in attendance seemed to agree with the mayor, but there was also acknowledgement that a center for young people would need some rules and supervision.
Sharon Hanson said, “Nobody should ever worry about their kids being exposed to profanity, bullying or drugs.”
Another point of view was that the art center should be exactly that, a center for the arts, not aimed at only youth, but anyone interested in the arts.
“We should start small with a community theater,” Carol Jordan said. “Maybe some art classes for different age groups.”
The young people in attendance liked the idea of the center fostering creativity for all ages, saying that a center designed to keep kids out of trouble might do the opposite.
“I understand that a lot of you are parents and want kids to respect people,” Aleman said, “but if I walk into a building and see signs everywhere that say, ‘No Profanity’ the first thought that goes through my head will be rebellious, and I’m not even a rebellious kid.”
Near the end of the meeting, discussion turned to money. “It will take $12,000 to $14,000 a year to run the building,” Thane said. “That includes heat, electric, insurance, and maintenance. It’s not an inexpensive thing to own a building.”
Because of that expense, the city could decide to sell the building, but according to Thane, the Common Council has made no decision.
Gerry Skrocki said, “We have to get over the hurdle of actually getting the building, or none of this matters.”
If that obstacle is cleared, another problem arises. There is currently no funding for the project.
Thane will be asking the Common Council for funding, but also asked those who support the art center to write their aldermen and speak at Common Council meetings, held the first and third Tuesdays of the month.
Despite Thane’s description of the building as “a cleaner-upper rather than a fixer-upper,” some work will have to be done to the building to make it usable as an arts center.
The next meeting will take place in the same location at 6 p.m. on April 12 when the goal will be to ratify the mission statement drafted on Tuesday and to form committees to handle fundraising, public relations, building management and program coordination.