CORNELIUS — The Cornelius Arts Center has taken on a new look since Manager and Curator Jen Crickenberger came on board just over a year ago.

Preparing for budget discussions, Cornelius commissioners asked Crickenberger to present updates March 3 about the new programming, increased participation and overall changes to the center.

The Cornelius Arts Center is housed in the historic mill; however, the hope is to soon have a new arts center thanks to voter-approved bond money. In the meantime, Crickenberger has worked to make improvements to the center, which is umbrellaed under the town’s Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture Department.

“When I arrived and saw the state of the gallery, it just came off in as unprofessional in the way it was presented,” she told the board. “There was a lot of room for improvement.”

With her background in museums, Crickenberger gave the center a new paint job and better display cases.  She has also brought in new artist exhibitors, including Nathaniel Lancaster, Andrea Vail and Amy Sanders. Reception attendance has reportedly increased from 35-100 to 85-350. Annual art sales in the year total more than $6,500. With the strengthening reputation, Crickenberger said they are attracting professional artists to be involved as exhibitors, arts, volunteers and teachers. On weekends, they also have started screening independent films.

“We are reaching a new audience who has never been to the center before,” she said.

In addition to the atmosphere, Crickenberger has worked to change how the classes are run. Leaders of the previous contracted vendor, The Community Arts Project, have stated they prefer process-based art, with the focus being more on the creative process rather than the finished product. CAP still leads the ceramics department at the Cornelius Arts Center, but some of the new vendors offer an alternative.

“We want to provide meaningful educational services," Crickenberger said. "We want to make sure that is happening so they leave here with something they are proud of and more knowledge about art and art history than before.”

New vendors include Bricks4Kidz, Tech Stars and music classes. She has enlisted 17 new teachers for classes like photography, fashion, sewing and jewelry making. Taking heed of some requested items, the center hopes to add a ladies’ night.

To be more efficient this spring and summer, staff have identified programs with low enrollment to remove them from the schedule, plus they plan to add more adult workshops, elementary and middle school classes and are planning adult focus groups. They also gave parent surveys to get more ideas for future events and meet demands.

The revamping of programming has seen changes in attendance. Elementary classes have had a steady increase, although preschool has plateaued with a slight decline in winter. The only area that has seen a significant drop is the adult class offerings. Crickenberger attributes that to students taking classes through the CAP followed their instructors when the organization moved to a different location. 

The Cornelius Arts Center has also had initiatives for public art, including sculptures that are also bike racks.

Looking forward, Crickenberger asked commissioners to consider including a movie theater to meet the film program interest, enhance the studios and offer equipment for hobbies people can’t do at home and expand exhibition spaces to allow for multiple galleries in the new arts center.

“We want to make sure we have a creative, fresh and sophisticated look,” she said.