Building of its own gives Arts Council new life

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

For more than 20 years, artists in Homer have wanted a center of their own, not just a place to install a fax machine but a home base. Now they have it.

Homer Council on the Arts bought the old Pate Insurance building on Pioneer Avenue last spring knowing it would provide office space, but hoping it would be more. That dream is becoming a reality, said acting director Jenny Carroll.

"Our goal is to have it be a community art center," she said.

It is helping fulfill the council's broader mission, Carroll said, which is to serve the community in all respects, from providing a venue for workshops and performances to making a home for the board of directors to carry on the business of supporting the arts in Homer.

It has that feel when you walk in the door. The main room is filled with marimbas, while the strains of violin lessons float out from the back of the building. The walls of one nook are papered with posters of arts council performances dating back to the early 1970s, and the area begs for a table where two like-minded souls can share a cup of tea over a discussion of dance.

The council has the premier office, which features a sliding glass ticket window that someday actually could be put to use, Carroll said. The council envisions using the building's large interior space for performances, and then the ticket window will come in handy.

Kenai Peninsula Orchestra also has office space, where it stores music and keeps track of its business. Kenai Peninsula Youth Court rents space, and other offices are available to rent, Carroll said.

In the back is an area where Renee Jahnke conducts her popular Art for Kids classes every Monday and Wednesday.

"The Art for Kids program has been wildly successful," Carroll said, but always has been relegated to a portable classroom at Paul Banks Elementary School.

Gradually the classroom began to have other uses and demands placed on it, which crimped the arts classes.

"We couldn't complain, because it was free," Carroll said. "But we increasingly felt the need for our own programs to have their own home."

There is room for Jahnke's young artists to spread out, not to mention a sink to help them clean up.

Kaari Bouma also holds violin lessons there twice a week.

Waiting for ideas and equipment is an entire basement, Carroll said.

"That could be a community arts space," where workshops might be held, kilns plugged in, or printing presses set up -- "who knows what?"

The new building fills a niche that was identified years ago, according to longtime arts supporter and choreographer Jill Berryman.

In the late 1970s, the council spearheaded a movement for a new cultural center. Envisioned as a small performance space in a town where most roads were still gravel, it never found the kind of political support necessary for funding.

When a new Homer High School was started in 1983, support for the cultural center shifted to a proposed new auditorium.

About the same time, the council grew out of its infancy and hired its first director, which also meant the group needed an office. It borrowed space, then rented it.

Buying a permanent home now makes perfect sense, said Berryman.

"It was the next step for this organization to be credible and viable in this community," she said. "It just gives the council a real visibility in Homer."

Joel Gay is the manging editor of the Homer News.

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