plans arts center at old red brick schoolhouse
By Kevin Kelley
Published Nov. 8, 2006
Drago is spearheading efforts to house a local arts center
at the old red brick schoolhouse on Dover Center Road. (Photo
by Kevin Kelley)
that Westlake residents are underserved in the arts compared to
residents of communities with similar demographics, a group of residents
are planning to raise $2.9 million to renovate the old red brick
schoolhouse on Dover Center Road to make it the headquarters of
a thriving area arts scene.
Heather Drago, a painter who has been spearheading
the Red Brick Center for the Arts (formerly known as the Committee
for a Westlake Arts Center), presented the results of 16 months
of research on the feasibility of such a project to City Council
Drago’s group, which includes among its members Westlake
Director of Planning and Economic Development Robert Parry, Ohio
Dance Theater Director Denis Gula, and historical preservation consultant
Steven McQuillin, made the following conclusions:
- There is a clear, measurable need to improve the amount
of arts education, programs and facilities in Westlake.
- Existing local performance facilities are underutilized.
- Existing arts organizations are not fully connecting
with the community.
- Westlake is falling behind comparable communities
when it comes to providing arts education and programming to its
- Westlake is not taking full advantage of opportunities
to further economic development by not fostering the development
of the arts sector.
The group plans to establish an arts center in Westlake
at the old red brick schoolhouse. The center will offer classes
and space for dance, music and the visual arts, including painting,
ceramics, sculpture and photography.
new logo of the Red Brick Center For the Arts.
The $2.9 million which must be raised includes all
the furnishings and equipment needed for the arts center. The group’s
research concluded the red brick building is in good shape for a
building its age. Renovation will include the addition of an elevator.
At $180 per square foot, the cost of renovating the
schoolhouse is less than the average cost of constructing a new
building, which is on average $200 per square foot, Drago said.
The now vacant building, built in 1907, is owned by
the Westlake Board of Education. Plans are for the board to lease
the building to the arts organization for a dollar a year.
A renovated red brick arts center will not have any
performing venues, however. Drago said none is needed, as the center
will make use of existing venues in the immediate area, such as
the Westlake Schools Performing Arts Center, the Magnificat Center
for Performing Arts, Clague Playhouse, Huntington Theater and Baycrafters.
sketch by Van Dyke Architects, LLC. of an outdoor amphitheater
proposed for Crocker Park. (Courtesy of Red Brick Arts Center)
The group is also backing the creation of an outdoor
amphitheater at Crocker Park. Crocker Park had set aside between
two to three acres for green space or other civic purposes in an
agreement with the city. The final configuration of this area has
yet to be determined, but Mayor Dennis Clough has said he favors
building an outdoor amphitheater which could be used as an outdoor
skating rink in the winter.
How an amphitheater would be funded is unclear. The
amphitheater is not included in the group’s funding forecast.
In addition to utilizing existing facilities, Drago
said an art center will create an arts consortium which will help
local nonprofit arts organizations to network, cooperatively program
and pool their marketing resources.
“We don’t want to replicate what other people are
doing,” Drago told West Life.
A private “arts summit” is scheduled Dec. 9 for the
arts groups located just West of Cleveland to Oberlin as an initial
step toward this consortium, Drago said.
In the next several months, the organization plans
to hold several small fund-raising events to raise start-up money.
The big capital campaign for the $2.9 million will begin in May
2007, with renovation work slated to begin in September 2008. The
group’s report set fall of 2009 or winter 2010 for the center’s
One possible obstacle — the Beck Center for the Arts,
which recently decided to stay in Lakewood after considering a move
to Crocker Park, will be launching its own capital campaign at about
the same time as Drago’s group.
The Red Brick Center for the Arts also plans to raise
an additional $2 million for an endowment, which would provide 20
percent of the center’s $500,000 annual budget.
Drago said she expects a major part of the money will
come from business and corporate donations. She also said there
is a large base of alumni who attended classes when the building
was used as a schoolhouse. Many of them have gone on to successful
lives and want to see the building preserved, she said.
While the group is currently not seeking any public
money from Westlake, it does plan on applying for grants from the
county and state for the project.
In their research, group members visited several communities,
ranging from Brecksville to Columbus to Wooster, which have active
arts centers. The group’s report concluded that communities with
an active arts scene do better attracting business and visitors.
A vibrant arts environment offers a higher quality of life and helps
drive the economy, the report also concluded.
Drago, who has been leading efforts to establish an
arts center in Westlake on a volunteer basis since June 2005, said
she would like to see more residents back the effort.
“We’d like more people to get involved,” she said.
For more information about the Red Brick Center for
the Arts, or to download a copy of its report, visit its Web site