Changes Coming

By MEGAN PHILLIPS,

Plans In The Works To Reinvigorate Madison Square Center For The Arts

Madison officials are making plans to reinvigorate the Madison Square Center for the Arts this coming year.

“The city is in negotiations now for the addition of an exciting new program,” Lucy Webb, who works for the city’s parks and recreation department, said. “We should be able to announce that in the near future.”

Webb could not elaborate further on what’s to come for the arts center, but the change has been long awaited.

Since December 2015, the arts center has been under different forms of direction. Former arts coordinator Pam Waldrep retired that month, and six-year arts center employee Terah Sampson took her place.

In May 2016, Sampson resigned, and consultant Allison Winstead took over the daily responsibilities that summer.

Winstead had been hired in February of 2016 as part of The Creative Think Company, which would help the city with suggestions on how to strengthen the program and make better connections with the Madison community.

“We are looking to enhance the program and possibly take it in a new direction,” Kianca Stringfellow, Madison community development director, told the Sun at the time. “She will also work with the city to draft a scope of work for the future director of the cultural arts center.”

Stringfellow could not specify what the new direction might be.

Now the arts center is under the jurisdiction of the city’s park and recreation department and its new permanent director, Nathan Hanson.

“Mr. Hanson serves in a ‘permanent’ capacity,” Webb said. “In addition, there are several full-time employees assigned to the center for administrative and maintenance duties.”

The Madison Square Redevelopment Authority, a separate agency established by the city in 2003, is currently focused on finding a developer for the center and is working through that process with the city, according to Webb.

The five members of the authority’s board are Chairman Tony Difatta, Louis Pellegrine, Joyce Hart, Bob Huston, and new appointee Kimberly Kelly.

“The board sets policy for the work of the authority, including promotion of development and financing mechanisms associated with the work of the authority,” Webb said. “The MSRA board serves on a volunteer basis.”

Since its inception in 2003, the Madison Square Redevelopment Authority has been working to promote development and economic benefits for the former high school campus and surrounding areas, according to Webb.

 

Right now, the city’s new plans for the center do not have a fixed cost. The center’s current budget is $226,641.

“We have approximately 130 events per year, not including weekly classes. The funds derived from these events help contribute to the upkeep and operation of the center,” Webb said. 

Currently, the arts center is the city’s central location for arts programs such as dance, drama, music and traditional art programs including painting, pastels and watercolor.

“The center serves as home for the Center Players, and every summer the city sponsors an arts camp. The center also leases space for arts related activities, and the grounds serve as the site for other cultural and community events such as ‘Swing into Summer’ and the city’s farmers market,” Webb said.

The Center Players is a non-profit organization that strives to provide affordable entertainment at the arts center.

The arts center is 18,000 square feet, and Webb said the city currently has no plans to expand the building.

“At the present time, emphasis is on maintenance and improvement of the existing facility.”

The arts center used to be Madison-Ridgeland High School until the opening of Madison Central in 1991.

“In that sense, it has been part of the community for approximately a hundred years. Actual ownership of the arts center building and the old gymnasium was conveyed to the city in 2004,” Webb said.

Before the city acquired ownership of the arts center 13 years ago, volunteers continued to establish projects that helped with the building’s upkeep.

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A Jackson native, Tippy Garner has always lived in the north and northeast area of the city.