On a warm September evening in 2002, at the last Art Walk of the season, the dream of turning a local downtown landmark into an art center began to take shape. Artists displayed their wares on the sidewalks, businesses opened their doors to after-hours customers and a pottery wheel was spinning its spell before mesmerized children and adults. Art lovers perused the exhibits of paintings, photography, sculpture and pottery while live music played in the background, but one building stood dark and closed amidst the busy background of the evening. Baldwin Lumber had recently retired its operations, leaving vacant the 1914 Ives-Hartley Lumber Company building. After being in continuous operation for nearly 90 years, Baldwin Lumber Company was closing its doors for good.
On an evening filled with community and art, the dream became a viable vision. Why not turn this historic empty structure into a local art center, thereby securing the future of the building, while creating a home for the arts in Baldwin City?
“I remember very well the day Sandy came to my house for coffee. It was shortly after the lumberyard had closed its doors and she gave me a most inspiring “I’ve got a dream” speech. She told me she had been sitting in Express Yourself, our downtown coffee shop, looking out the window at the recently closed Baldwin Lumberyard. As she put it, the lumberyard had been a proud part of Baldwin City’s commerce and now the building sat empty, dark and abandoned. That’s when her idea was born…..what a great place for a community arts center. She even showed me an initial sketch with a brick courtyard and wrought iron gates, still used on many of the Lumberyard Arts Center forms and products. Her excitement infected me!! I didn’t want another historical building to crumble into ruin either. And her dream of a place for Baldwin’s wealth of local artists to display their works in a sheltered and pleasant environment was so exciting. I remember telling her that we could not impact her dream with a significant endowment, but I would help in any way I could.
From that point on, she was everywhere, speaking to local organizations, getting the community excited about the possibility of doing something positive in the community without relying on tax dollars to do it.
Eventually a steering committee was set up for a feasibility study. There were many nay-sayers who said it couldn’t be done, but she never faltered in her enthusiasm and certainty that it could. When the Board of Directors was formed she was appointed President. The work she did on the Lumberyard Arts Center Project and her commitment to community betterment was acknowledged with the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award. Her father passed away causing her to miss the presentation and I was truly honored when she asked me to receive the Award for her.
Since the dream. a lot of people have been involved…serving in various ways, raising funds, serving on committees, giving tremendous amounts of their time, gifts, talents and money. Some have come and gone – but the dream has materialized and will continue to develop.” ~Cleo Langley
In the spring of 2003, a presentation was made by Sandy Cardens and Laura Morford, two women active in the Baldwin Community Arts Council, to the owner of the building, Baldwin State Bank for turning that vacant building into an arts center. Cardens joined forces with Jim and Diane Niehoff, and a decision was made by all parties to pursue this vision separate from the Arts Council. A meeting was called to gauge community interest in the project in June of that year and from the list of interested attendees, a steering committee and several subcommittees were formed, each with specific tasks.
On August 12, 2003, the Lumberyard Arts Center Project received 501(c)(3) non-profit designation under the umbrella of the National Heritage Foundation and the task of raising the necessary funds to implement the project began.
After laying out a possible floor plan, the Project members worked with students from the Kansas State University architecture department to formulate preliminary floor plans for the renovation. Paul Werner Architects of Lawrence was then selected to design and draft the final architectural plan. The estimated cost of the project was just over $1,000,000! A huge sum for a small community, but the founders and the Steering Committee were undaunted.
In the beginning, with much community interest aroused, funds came from many sources. One of the first donations came from a Children’s Theater workshop. Proceeds from a community talent show with participants of all ages were dedicated to the project. A barbeque dinner with music from area musicians was so well received that it has become an annual event enjoyed by the community. A wide range of items have been made or contributed for sales to generate funds, birdhouses, tee shirts, videos, cutting boards, ornaments, note cards and coffee mugs, just to name a few. Contributions have come from many other sources too and include Brownie Scouts with money earned selling cookies, a seven year old “artist” who contributed 50% of her sales at summer Art Walks and former residents of Baldwin City who now live far away, but still have a love for their hometown.
The Baldwin Community Arts Council, founders of the Art Walk, was one of the first organizations to contribute and continued to support the project until in early 2012, when they merged with the Arts Center. The Community Theatre regularly donates a portion of their receipts to the Center. Grants from the Douglas County Community Foundation and the Rice Foundation as well as other donations from area businesses and corporations have contributed to the funds to proceed with renovation. Donations, great and small, each one important, and yet, $1,000,000 is still a huge sum for a small community!
A determined group of volunteers and a hard-working, loyal and passionate board of directors remained steadfast toward their goal of building a home for the arts in the heart of downtown. In the fall of 2006, the board determined it was appropriate to operate independently of the National Heritage Foundation and applied for and were awarded their own 501(c)(3) status.
When the community began having its doubts as to whether or not anything would really happen, it was decided to divide the project into two phases. Divide and conquer! Thanks to the many volunteers and countless hours of hard, dirty work and thanks to donations large and small from the community, Phase I is now complete and open for business.
Phase I includes the front half of the building, which includes classrooms, a gallery, an office and a catering kitchen. representing the greater part of total renovation costs. With the completion of Phase I, an attractive working facility is now available for classes, art exhibits, theater presentations and other community events.
Fund raising continues toward the goal of completion of Phase II, which will add a theater and a multi-purpose space in the back half of the building. Grants are being sought, memberships in Friends of the Lumberyard Arts Center are being solicited and orders for commemorative bricks are still being taken. Fundraisers will continue to take place, not only to generate funds for construction of Phase II, but to cover necessary expenses such as utility bills, office supplies, insurance and taxes. The Center is still staffed by an all-volunteer workforce.
There is still a need for volunteers for routine maintenance, hosting exhibits, teaching classes, being members of the committees and at times on the Board of Directors. If you haven’t had time up until now, it’s not too late to get on the list. We hope you will become a member of the Friends of the LAC and if you haven’t ordered your brick, you can still become a permanent part of the history of Baldwin City by having your brick in the center of the courtyard in the Lumberyard.
The community of Baldwin City is creating change for its future, and the development of the Lumberyard Arts Center is a part of that future. This vision is becoming a reality and the community now has a Home for the Arts in the heart of downtown.