Cornelius Arts Center poised for expansion, broader outreach efforts
Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Cornelius Arts Center poised for expansion, broader outreach efforts

    Video game animation classes have surged in popularity at the Cornelius Arts Center.
    Richard Groff of Huntersville has attended classes at the Cornelius Arts Center for a few years. He said sculpting is his most relaxing hobby, next to gardening, making his own fertilizer from worm castings and target shooting.
    The Cornelius Arts Center offers programs that allows adults and kids to fashion their own sculptures.
    Phil Gooley jokingly calls himself the hairy potter. The longtime Huntersville resident said the Cornelius Arts Center has evolved in some good ways but there’s room for more growth. “It certainly can't be everything to everybody but I'm certainly looking forward to it staying in this area,” he said.
    From left: Jane Holland and Ann Haley of Davidson work on pieces as part of a hand-building class ran by the Cornelius Arts Project in the Cornelius Arts Center.
    Phil Gooley says the Cornelius Arts Center allows the community to experience their creative side in a supportive environment. While working on his carved vessel, he talked about a somewhat moody clay god, “Sometimes she is kind and sometimes she’s very unkind. A lot of our work is part of the process. We're just here creating and the end product is a gift.”
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    A brief history

    Approximately four years ago, the town of Cornelius opened the Cornelius Arts Center at its current location in The Mill, off Oak Street. The town originally partnered with Children’s Arts Project and Creative Art Exchange. In 2009, these two cultural organizations merged to form the Community Arts Project. Cornelius’ PARC department oversees the daily operation and management of the Cornelius Arts Center with an on-site supervisor and administrative staff. Details: or 704-896-8823.

It appears the Cornelius Arts Center has positioned itself to enter its own Renaissance.

In November, residents voted on three bond referenda that included street and sidewalk improvements ($11.15 million), parks and recreation improvements ($5.25 million) and the redevelopment of Town Center ($4 million).

All three passed, and the centerpiece of that puzzle will be a new community arts center that’s planned to open within the next five years in downtown Cornelius.

Troy Fitzsimmons, director of Cornelius’ Parks, Arts, Recreation & Culture department, calls it a worthy investment, adding leaders anticipate funding to be available starting fiscal 2015, which begins July 1. The final result will be a new or renovated facility with upwards of 14,000 square feet.

“If you look at any vibrant community across the United States – you can look across the globe even – you’re going to find communities with a strong arts presence; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to get up here in Cornelius. We’ve got a strong commitment from our local leaders, our town management and the PARC department.”

A study conducted by the Arts and Science Council in 2008 provided feedback on how to boost arts and sciences in the Lake Norman area, said Fitzsimmons. The study suggested making Davidson the performing arts hub while Huntersville promoted science and Cornelius emphasized visual arts.

“The Cornelius Arts Center was an offshoot of that study,” said Fitzsimmons.

To overcome the growing pains surrounding the arts, the Cornelius Town Board in 2010 commissioned an arts task force that examined the center’s current business model and made suggestions on how to improve.

A major suggestion was switching from a single-vendor to a multi-vendor approach, which allows more individuals and businesses to offer programs at the center. That business model started in the summer of 2013 in a bid to cross more geographic and socio-economic borders.

The task force also recommended hiring an arts administrator to help facilitate the transition. That person is Jen Crickenberger, the arts and recreation program coordinator, manager and curator of the Cornelius Arts Center.

She graduated from UNC Charlotte with hopes of becoming a National Geographic photographer. The 31-year-old was a freelance teaching artist at The Light Factory in Charlotte before becoming its director of education for seven years.

A large part of her job involves making the Cornelius arts scene more vibrant. Currently, participants from pre-school pupils to octogenarians can learn about more than a dozen different art forms and mediums at the center, she said.

Variety fuels growth

It seems that offering diverse educational programs is working.

The film program, Studio C Cinema, garnered nearly 500 ticket sales in the last four months. Beyond that, Crickenberger said, overall exhibit quality has improved, youth classes are growing, a community dark room is in the works and figure drawing starts next month.

Tech Stars by Computer Explorers provides laptops and teaches kids to create their own characters and video games. Local performing arts organizations and musicians to offer rock and acoustic guitar camps this summer. The center also works with Bricks for Kids, a national franchise with local instructors who help kids build Lego creations.

‘Tawba Walks, a regular arts festival with food trucks and live entertainment, cropped up last year, luring thousands of people to year-round events.

The program variety not only fills a need but reaches new audiences, said Crickenberger.

“I really tried to hone in on areas that maybe weren’t explored before,” she said. “I’ve given all these surveys and I’ve gotten all this feedback from the community, and they’ve said they wanted this.”

The student-artists

Phil Gooley jokingly calls himself the hairy potter. The longtime Huntersville resident said the Cornelius Arts Center has evolved in some good ways, but there’s room for more growth.

“It certainly can’t be everything to everybody, but I’m certainly looking forward to it staying in this area,” he said. “Without it, it would create a void in the community and there would be a lot of unhappy people.”

Jane Holland of Davidson said the center is a little-known secret that’s quickly becoming not-so-secret.

“It’s wonderful to have something like this … but I’d really hate for too many people to find out about it because I still want to be able to get into the classes,” she said.

The multifaceted offerings are what stand out to Shari Crouse, a sculpting and pottery instructor with the Community Arts Project for the last five years.

“The arts are so important to people,” she said. “When you go to a new area, you want to see the arts. It’s part of us as people, and it’s what we really look for.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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