Two months after securing a downtown building, Art Center of Waco board members and supporters are gearing up for the next phase of a project with green its predominant color: fundraising.

They are working on plans to raise $500,000 to start renovations on the one-story brick building at 701 S. Eighth St., a former social services center. The building, built in 1960 and with 9,240 square feet of space, will allow the community art center to move downtown from its past home at McLennan Community College.

The center had to leave that location, in a century-old summer home of the William Cameron family, last October when MCC property managers discovered a structural problem that threatened the safety of building occupants. Art Center staff had to move their office and programs, and downtown Waco arts space Cultivate 7twelve has housed some of those operations.

“Our next big push is we need to get some money,” board President Jill Michaels said.

The board is in discussions with a local development firm to plan and organize the next stage of fundraising, Michaels said. If that fundraising proves successful, work could start in six to nine months, she said.

The Art Center has already raised $260,000 toward the $600,000 purchase price for the building and an adjacent lot, said Lisa Monroe, co-owner of the Triliji Group real estate firm and an Art Center board member on the task force charged with finding a new location. The board’s $500,000 fundraising goal would allow construction to start and proceed to “white box status” of a finished exterior readied for interior work.

“I’m confident we can do it,” Monroe said.

Michaels acknowledged raising a large amount of money for a major arts project is challenging in a city Waco’s size, due in part to a smaller pool of available private funding and multiple causes asking for that private support.

Shortly after the Art Center’s April announcement of its move downtown, in fact, organizers of a Cameron Park Sculpture Zoo featuring some two dozen public sculptures announced they had raised almost $700,000 for the project.

When Art Center fundraisers reached out about the downtown center’s renovation, they found that some potential donors had already given to the Sculpture Zoo.

“Some of them got tapped out but told us to come back for Phase 2 and they could help then,” Michaels said.

On the other hand, having several high-profile arts projects in Waco could grow the pool of contributors interested in expanding the city’s arts resources.

“There’s more awareness in the community about art,” she said.

Michaels said initial response to the Art Center’s new location has been gratifying. The Cooper Foundation has promised a grant of $100,000, which the center has 11 months to match, Waco Independent School District offered use of its Hillcrest Elementary School for the center’s summer art camp, she said.

“Everyone has been excited to help us. We’ve been so appreciative of that,” Michaels said.

Waco architectural firm RBDR Pllc, whose partner Grant Dudley is on the Art Center board, has completed some renderings of the new center’s interior but is still working on an exterior design.

The Art Center is adapting its educational and outreach programs for the interim, relocating some and creating others. Art Center Director Meg Gilbert said classes were almost full for the summer art camps at Hillcrest, and Saturday art labs now at downtown’s Cultivate 7twelve would continue there.

The East Waco Library had agreed to host the center’s Cookies and Coloring class for young children, and discussions are underway to highlight emerging local artists in the center’s mobile gallery this coming school year, she said.

The center recently sent out a call for artists to submit works for the mobile gallery’s upcoming year with Alison Hearst, assistant curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, as the show’s curator.

Its theme is something one suspects is on the mind of Art Center supporters and staff members: “Transition.”

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

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