On Oct. 4, Lorain developer Jon Veard of United Property Management hosted a tour and lunch with Marianne Cooper, executive director of Richland Academy, 75 N. Walnut St., Mansfield.
Meeting her this year, it was clear her experience could add to Lorain efforts to create an arts center, Veard said.
“She’s got 47,000 square feet, full, busy, teaching kids the arts for 28 years,” he said. “Maybe she’ll provide the spark we need to get this off the ground.”
With the Palace Theater, Rockin’ on the River and the annual FireFish Festival, Lorain is no stranger to the visual arts, dance and music.
But establishing a studio for lessons, rehearsals and performances could become a new way to attract more people and investments in the city.
For years, Cooper worked as professor of music at Ohio State University’s Mansfield Campus.
Cooper offered her perspectives on rooting an arts center in downtown Lorain.
The meeting included Veard’s sons, Jon Jr. and Eric; Jim Long, president of Lorain Growth Corp.; Dina Ferrer, coordinator of the Lorain Learning Center at Lorain County Community College; Lorain attorney Anthony Giardini; Patrick Metzger, director of the Lorain County Port Authority, which operates the Lorain County Land Reutilization Corp., or county land bank.
After a tour, lunch guests included Cleveland businesswoman Radhika Reddy, who is overseeing creation of the Arial Broadway Hotel at 301 Broadway.
The session started in Veard’s conference room in the City Center, where Cooper described lessons from the start and growth of Richland Academy.
Richland Academy started in 1991 and has grown to offer more than 230 classes, workshops, master classes and individual instruction per year during two 16-week semesters and one 8-week summer term, according to the organization.
That translates into six-day-a-week programming in music, dance, theater and visual arts.
Participation has grown to more than 3,000 class registrations per school year, more than $20,000 in scholarships a year and 10,000 area residents attending performances there, according to the organization.
The art instruction studio has spurred a lot of work and a lot of joy over the years, Cooper said.
The Richland Academy began in 1991, three weeks after and across the street from the Richland Carrousel Park in downtown Mansfield.
Some local residents panned the merry-go-round when it was installed, Cooper said, but families loved it.
“In reality, it was the hinge point for downtown,” she said. “As goofy as people might think it is, children love it, families love it and it’s very healthy. So, then things began to crop up.”
At first, lessons were in a number of spaces.
Then Richland Academy moved into 7,000 square feet of an old car dealership.
“Of course, the site is very important because it then drives the vision of what could be offered,” Cooper said. “If you don’t know the space, you don’t know what it is that you can do in that space.”
A nonprofit arts group can’t do much work on its own.
“You’ve just got to surround yourself with the right people, and I know that’s what you’re trying to do and the commitment and the challenge for wanting to do an arts-centered something is much different from doing some other kind of entrepreneurship,” she said.
Recounting the early days of the Richland Academy, Cooper recounted skepticism of a panel of local business leaders who believed economic revitalization would happen by making widgets, not paintings, plays or dance recitals.
“What some people fail to look at is, the arts can be a catalyst and they can drive economy,” she said. “It may not be as fast as some other parts of the economy, but it can make a difference.
“And it makes a difference, not only with money, but with numbers of people and how lives are affected.”
Richland Academy has been driven by “the hard facts of the income,” operating with at least 75 percent of its budget from earned income, with the remainder coming from grants and donations, Cooper said.
“I would challenge you that, that’s one of the most important things that you’re going to have to do, too,” she said. “It’s so difficult to find that lovely money.”
The group members agreed FireFish Festival organizers, including co-founder Joan Perch, have been champions for the arts as an economic development tool in Lorain.
With the Palace Theater, 617 Broadway, it appeared a lot of people thought the next-door Eagles Building at 573 Broadway would be a good arts-related building, Ferrer and Giardini said.
They toured the former Style Center building at 418 Broadway and the former Chase Bank building at 1949 Broadway: Both are owned by the county land bank.
Along with a vision and financial support, Cooper pointed out practical considerations such as parking and elevators if the space is more than one floor.
Dance classes can become a means of supporting an arts center because the student-teacher ratio is greater than one-to-one private instruction for musical instruments, she said.