Fundraising Campaign for Performing Arts Center Launches
By Sam Crisler - The Ashland Gazette
Talk of bringing a performing arts center to Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools dates back at least to the mid-aughts, when there was discussion of expanding the middle school/high school building to include an auditorium and the city’s public library.
The auditorium would have replaced the district’s existing performance facility, which also functions as the high school gym.
An expansion to the middle school/high school building’s west wing commenced in 2009 without an auditorium in the plans. The Ashland Community Resource Center replaced the city’s previous library and opened its doors downtown in 2015.
Hopes of building a performing arts center didn’t stick until 2020, when AGPS passed a bond issue for the construction of a PreK-2 building and a new middle school facility that will eventually house Ashland-Greenwood High School.
Plans for the latter building include a performing arts center, which is beginning to take shape on the site northwest of the current middle school/high school building.
The auditorium was included in the overall project’s budget, but AGPS Superintendent Jason Libal said the intention had always been to fund much of the performing arts center using private donations.
In the coming weeks, the Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools Foundation – in conjunction with a steering committee that includes support from the Ashland Area Economic Development Corporation, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the Ashland Creative District, among other groups – will roll out a campaign with the goal of raising $4.5 million for the performing arts center by next July.
Over $3 million of that has already been covered, Libal said, through donations prior to the campaign’s soft launch during Stir-Up in July.
“When we started the bond issue, (private donors) jumped right to the table and said, ‘Hey, it’s important for the auditorium to be included, and here’s how we want to support it,’” Libal said.
Once completed, the auditorium will have room for over 700 people and balcony seating, as well as professional acoustics and lighting.
“I think there was just such strong support at the onset for (the performing arts center) to occur, especially from the private sector,” Libal said. “They wanted to be involved in making sure that this was a state-of-the-art facility that was second to none.”
The school district is launching the campaign with help from Michele Tilley of marketing firm BCom, who aided in the fundraising efforts for the ACRC. She said local organizations have been happy to join the performing arts center’s cause because of its potential impact on the schools and the community at large.
“It’s not just the school system that has a need for this venue. It’s the town itself,” Tilley said.
She said the campaign will emphasize the performing arts center’s accessibility to the Ashland-Greenwood community outside of the student body. She said the steering committee has hopes of attracting touring musicians, speakers and theater acts to the venue.
“The reason this venue is a public-private partnership is that, yes, it’s going to expand the resources for the school, but there’s great interest in bringing regional and national artists … to Ashland,” Tilley said. “And this would be the place where that would happen.”
The naming of the facility – the Ashland-Greenwood Performing Arts Center – was deliberate in its omission of a direct reference to the school district, Libal said.
“We wanted people to feel like it was a school venue, but also a community venue as well,” Libal said. “It’s really not tied directly to the school. It’s our goal for the facility to be used and used often.”
He said he thinks bringing professional artists and performers to the venue will inspire students and make them aware of the possibilities that exist in the performing arts.
“Then, maybe, their own interest and batteries get rejuvenated, or a fire starts in their belly to say, ‘Hey, I want to be on that stage one day,’” Libal said.
The initial fundraising goal for the campaign was $3.5 million, Libal said, but it increased to $4.5 million as costs escalated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent addition to the design plans, too, is a recording studio, which Libal said will allow students to record auditions for all-conference band and choir with professional audio tools.
“That wasn’t on our (radar) early on, but as we visited other sites and facilities, that’s something that we figured we really needed to add in,” Libal said. “It was important to some of our donors, as well.”
Tilley said the steering committee is seeking more members as the campaign becomes more visible in coming months, and they can find more information at agperformingarts.org, where donations are also being accepted.
Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Ashland Gazette. Reach him via email at email@example.com.