Friday night’s gala at the new Alabama Center for the Arts symbolized more than just fundraising for Decatur resident Blake McAnally.
“It’s the beginning of something greater to come,” said McAnally, chairman of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. “The dreams that people have had are beginning to materialize, and it’s been fun to watch.”
The downtown fundraising celebration brought in 350 guests and more than $1 million in scholarships for students at the college.
The arts college is a partnership of Athens State University, Calhoun Community College, the city of Decatur and Morgan County.
Calhoun public relations director Janet Martin said fundraising surpassed the college’s last similar event, the opening of the Math, Science and Administration building in 2008 that raised about $400,000.
Martin predicts the college will attract students across the U.S., new businesses and increase economic development once Phase 2 is completed.
Last month, the Alabama Board of Education approved a plan for a $10 million, 45,000-square-foot drama and music building adjacent to Phase 1 of the arts college.
Phase 2 will include classrooms, labs, a recording studio, rehearsal rooms, instructor offices and a black box theater.
Calhoun and Athens State each plan to contribute $3 million for Phase 2, and the Morgan County legislative delegation has pledged $400,000 a year for 10 years using Tennessee Valley Authority’s in-lieu-of-tax funds.
Athens State President Bob Glenn said the college will select an architect to design Phase 2 before Christmas, and begin planning the layout of the facility next spring.
He anticipates Phase 2 completion in fall 2016 after a year and a half of construction. Downtown student housing is on Glenn’s agenda, as more than 600 students take classes at the college.
“I think the gala was a reflection of the support this community has for the partnership,” he said. “It’s a measure of what people are willing to do to make the partnership work, prosper and grow.”
State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is pushing to bring back a bill to create cultural districts in municipalities of 25,000 residents or more.
The bill would exempt sales tax on original works by local artists.
“I’ve heard nothing but people talking about how beautiful the college is and what an asset it will be to Decatur,” she said.
Decatur City Schools Supervisor of Curriculum Jeanne Payne hopes the college and K-12 school systems will work together once the school gains more momentum with Phase 2.
“I think the arts bring out the best in people,” she said. “I think this is a good thing for the community, the school system, economic development, and I’m excited about young people being in downtown Decatur.”
This month, Calhoun President Marilyn Beck presented plans to the state to request the school’s Limestone County campus be annexed into Decatur.
Decatur civic leaders visited Savannah, Ga., in August to study that city’s arts-based economy and visit the Savannah College of Art and Design. Martin said Savannah “has nothing on what Decatur can become.”
“The recurring theme I heard over and over again, even from the students, was that this is all so exciting and far beyond what they would have expected,” she said.
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