Musician Anne Badger calls the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa a magical place.
“You feel so much here,” Badger said, noting the clean acoustic sound the church provides for a variety of music.
In many ways, the magic is just beginning.
A reception featuring five performances was conducted at Open Table United Church of Christ on Thursday to celebrate the congregation handing over its church building at the northeast corner of Jackson and Columbus streets to the newly formed Ottawa Center for the Arts.
The vision is to create a place in Ottawa for a variety of performances from musical concerts to theater, showcasing not only local talent but also attracting traveling artists, said Badger, who will serve as executive director of the center.
It will take some time, but if we do it right, this will be a magnet for performers, for community events.”— Anne Badger, executive director of the Ottawa Center for the Arts
With a $10,000 donation from the Robert M. Eschbach Legacy Fund to get started, the next step for the Ottawa Center for the Arts is to meet with construction engineers and figure out the upgrades needed to the building, Badger said.
The performance space, which houses a grand Schantz pipe organ, is on the second floor of the church, and American with Disabilities Act compliances will have to be met, as well as updates in utilities and plumbing.
Despite having an ineffective elevator, the facility has a new roof.
“We’ll be formulating a vision for the building,” Badger said of the church built in 1870 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Then, the Ottawa Center for the Arts will have to raise money. An account was created with the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation to serve as its fiscal agent. The foundation will be looking to acquire grant funding from the National Endowment of the Arts, along with other sources, but the community will play a role in raising the funds necessary to transform the church into a performing arts destination.
Repairs may cost between $350,000 and $750,000, according to preliminary estimations.
“You’ve seen and heard enough [Thursday] to support this project and venue,” Fran Brolley, president and CEO of the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation, said to more than 100 community members invited to Thursday’s reception. “Your continuing financial support will be needed for this inspiring venue to thrive.”
The church’s congregation, which has 73 members and a little more than 40 people regularly attending services, will continue to meet on the first floor of the building for now.
Steve Malinksy of Open Table said the congregation knew it was getting too small to stay in the church, but it wanted to keep the facility within the community. During the reception, Mayor Robb Hasty shared some history of the church and commended the congregation for keeping the community in mind in passing along the facility.
The Ottawa Center for the Arts was incorporated in August. The church will be bought by Ottawa Center for the Arts Development Group, an incorporated and emerging 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, but in the interim, the SRCCF will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the project.
Badger said some performances may take place there in the near future, but the focus will be on building upgrades and creating a vision for what the Ottawa Center for the Arts will become.
Badger said she is enthusiastic about having a centralized space downtown across from Washington Square to showcase the performing arts in Ottawa.
“It will take some time, but if we do it right, this will be a magnet for performers, for community events,” she said.
The community is encouraged to share its ideas with board members and advisers. Christine and Rex Benson; Hasty, Morgan and Tommy Strow; and Ryan Wotherspoon were named to the board of directors for the newly formed organization.
Eschbach, Beckett, Brolley and Dave Noble will serve as advisers to the board.
Want to help?
To donate to the Ottawa Center for the Arts or get more information, visit srccf.org or contact the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-252-2906.