Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reason # 0 – A Dream into Reality - Top 10 reasons why the Madden Arts Center is a vital part of downtown Decatur

Ten years after the Madden Arts Center began its role as a community arts center, we have compiled a list of the top 10 reasons why it is a vital part of downtown Decatur.  I’ll address these reasons in a series of posts over the next few months as the Decatur Area Arts Council gears up for events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Madden Arts Center in August 2014.

This is the first in the series.  It gives a brief history of the discussion, planning, and development of the Madden Arts Center.  I have labeled it “#0” because it is not one of the “official” 10 reasons.

#0 – A Dream into Reality

Art and culture are important to a community.  They fuel the city’s imagination and allow it to gaze into the future with hope and enthusiasm.  In 1967, a group of local artists, teachers and Millikin University staff understood this when they began sponsoring children’s arts education programs.  Thanks to them, the Decatur Area Arts Council was born.  It started small – like many things do – and as the DAAC grew, it would focus on fulfilling the promise of providing “Arts for All.”

In 1992, the DAAC led an effort to develop a Community Cultural Plan for the city of Decatur.  That plan later inspired DAAC Executive Director Susan Smith to dream of a highly-visible, downtown arts center.  A center that could offer the community a gallery, art classes, and shops, and even serve as an arts incubator to help local arts groups grow and network.  But big ideas require big resources.

Over the next eight years, the DAAC worked hard to get all the pieces in place.  The search for the ideal location ended when DAAC board member Ritchie Barnett looked out his office window one afternoon and realized the answer had been there all the time.  Across the street, at 125 N. Water St., was a historic three-story building that even had an arts neighbor with Theatre 7.  This building dated back to 1902 and, though it had seen lots of shops and businesses come and go, it would now be the place the arts could call home.

Once the building was purchased in September 2000, the real work began.  Local business leaders and volunteers, from bankers to architects to contractors, rallied around the dream, and so did the people of Decatur.  Through their generosity, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, $2 million was raised and the redesign and renovation of the building was completed.  On July 5, 2004, the Decatur Area Arts Council moved into the Madden Arts Center and the dream of a vibrant community arts center became a reality.  Now, ten years later, the arts continue to inspire dreams in the citizens of Decatur.

Jerry Johnson
Executive Director
Decatur Area Arts Council