CORNELIUS – The town-supported Cornelius Arts Center is not functioning like it could, partly because the town and the nonprofit arts group that helps run the center are holding each other back, a citizen task force says.
The task force, led by Bruce McMillen, who has extensive experience with the countywide Arts & Sciences Council, is recommending eventually expanding the program into a bigger, more visible space in the next year to 18 months and opening programming to more arts groups. The town should be prepared to spend $100,000 to make improvements to any larger facility, which the task force suggests “re-branding” as the Lake Norman Arts Center at Cornelius.
In the interim, however, the task force wants to figure out ways to strengthen the Community Arts Project, the town’s current nonprofit partner, so it can operate independently of the town.
As a long-term vision, the task force recommends the town build an arts center near Town Center.
Currently, the town rents space for the Arts Center in Oak Street Mill and provides two employees from the Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture Department to staff the center. Although The PARC department manages the programming, the staff of the Community Arts Project actually provides the programming and always gets first dibs on any programming.
For now, the task force recommended renewing a 12-to-18-month lease with Oak Street Mill, which has offered to cut the rent by half, and strengthening Community Arts Project while preparing to move to a bigger space.
The town board voted to accept the report, and Commissioners Dave Gilroy and Chuck Travis were especially supportive of the idea of Cornelius partnering with the Arts & Sciences Council. But Commissioner Jim Bensman voiced concern about helping the Community Arts Project survive this change, and Mayor Jeff Tarte and Mayor Pro Tem Lynette Rinker said they want to see more information about the cost of running an expanded arts center.
The task force recommended modeling the new center on Matthews, which renovated a former high school in downtown as its Matthews Community Center. The town manages the center, which also houses its parks and recreation department. But it also rents space to arts groups.
“We’re not making any money,” Matthews spokeswoman Annette Privette-Keller said. “We’re trying to break even. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”