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High Hopes for the Arts in Leland

Those of us living here in Leland know how lucky we are. We have good schools, safe neighborhoods and access to a number of beaches within a short drive. We have great dining and an abundance of shopping needs within walking distance. Our children can attend dance classes or learn karate. We can walk nature trails and splash in the pool come summertime.

But one thing we are lacking in this northern part of the county is a space for the arts.

The Town of Leland wants to fill that void. Plans are underway to convert an abandoned building in the Magnolia Greens Commercial Village into a facility dedicated to artistic pursuits and classes.

The building was abandoned before it was finished and the owners of the 18,000-square-foot space were forced into foreclosure. On June 25, 2010, the Town of Leland purchased the space for roughly one half of its tax value — just $560,000. It has sat empty and unused ever since.

Soon after the purchase the Town of Leland reached out to the public to see how community members wanted to use the building. There was some debate about how to use the space. At first it was slated to be a community center, but those plans were modified.

“Our feeling was that if we were going to have a community center, we had to have exercise equipment and a basketball court,” says Niel Brooks, Director of Recreation and Environmental Programs for the Town of Leland. “And the space just doesn’t work for that.”

The town went back to square one, meeting with architects to discuss what could be done with the space. The idea for an arts center was proposed, and what an idea it is. This will be a place where people of all ages and demographics can experience and enjoy the arts — art of all kinds that appeals to many different people. This will be a place of outreach to introduce art to those who may not have a chance to see it or have the joy of creating it.

The building itself is only half finished — framed and insulated with windows and doors but empty of anything else.

“We plan to knock down a few of these walls and redo the windows for sure,” Brooks says.

Inside this great shell is a massive space to be used as a theater that can seat 200 people, complete with a green room for the performers.

“It’s not a huge theater, we won’t have stadium seating or anything, but it will be perfect for small productions,” says Brooks.

A dance studio area occupies a long stretch of wall behind the theater, in a sun-soaked portion of the main space. At the entrance there will be a gallery to display local art or traveling exhibits.

“We have contacted several national institutions about the possibility of hosting traveling exhibitions,” says Brooks.

Along a wide hallway are rooms for community meetings, CPR classes, card games, parenting classes … anything the community may need or desire.

A room in the back of the building will house a tremendous wood-working studio and, beyond that, a pottery studio. Many community groups have already expressed interest in the space, including the Wilmington Area Woodturners Association and the Venus Flytrap Potters.

The Brunswick Arts Council has been a key partner in the project. And the creation of the Leland Cultural Arts Committee has offered a broad spectrum of ideas and artists to help utilize the space effectively.

It is a large and ambitious project for a town of Leland’s size, but one that will hopefully draw people from all over southeastern North Carolina for performances or classes. The hope is that the center also will be a meeting place for residents, with people coming in and out all day, every day. Brooks hopes to eventually have classes during all open hours.

“We want to get feet in the door, make this place a hub of activity with people coming in and out all the time,” he says. “We want this place to be packed. We want classes for all ages and abilities. We want to have local artists displayed in the gallery, and local productions in the theater. We can have anything from children’s theater to musical productions right here.”

His hopes for the space are very high.

“This will be the largest facility of this type in the northern part of the county,” he says. “It will be a feather in the cap for the Town of Leland — something to attract residents and revenue to our city.”

At this point, the building is in the design stages.

“The Town Council has hired an architect to design the entire building and they are working on plans now,” says Brooks.

At this writing, the funding for the project was not yet finalized.

“The current intention is for the construction of the facility to be funded through the general fund, but Town Council has not formally allocated that money for construction.”

The Friends of the Cultural Arts Center will be able to help with fund-raising as well.

In the next few weeks the town will begin a nationwide search for a facility manager — someone with experience running a facility of this sort and hopefully with experience in the arts.

The building itself is a metaphor for art in a way — taking something ordinary and turning it into something beautiful and useful.

“This building, it’s ugly,” says Brooks. “But we have big plans for it. There will be Hardie Plank siding to replace the vinyl and a big sign over the entry. We want it to be appealing to the eye. We want people to want to come in and see what it’s all about.”

Construction is set to begin in fall 2013, with opening tentatively slated for late summer 2014. Until then, expect to hear about several chances to get on board to support this unique addition to our area.

For more information about the Cultural Arts Center, contact Niel Brooks at nbrooks@townofleland.com.

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