Selectmen Vote To Extend Cultural Center Program For Five Years

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Arts

Artist Georgene Riedl works inside her studio at the Harwich Cultural Center. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — Like spring flowers, arts and culture are blossoming in Harwich.

The seed that was planted a year ago when selectmen approved the use of the former middle school for a cultural center is blooming. This weekend will be the start of ArtWeek, a statewide celebration of the arts in the commonwealth, and Harwich will be center stage with demonstrations, performances and exhibits. But that is just one petal on the flower.

ArtWeek Gets Underway At Cultural Center This Weekend

ArtWeek begins at the cultural center on Saturday under the title “Harwich Is Creative.” That creativity will be on display for 10 days with numerous demonstrations, performances and exhibits.
This is the first year Harwich is participating in the festival that began in Boston in 2013, started by the Boch Center, and has spread to 155 towns and neighborhoods across the state. The Harwich Cultural Center was chosen as one of 20 partners in the festival and notices about events will be promoted on billboards along major highways in Eastern Massachusetts.
Check out the full schedule of events.

Selectmen on Monday night recognized how well the cultural center seed germinated. Community Center Director Carolyn Carey, who has irrigated and fertilized this project over the past year together with program aide Erica Strzepek, made a presentation to selectmen Monday night, promoting the success of the Harwich Cultural Center.

Selectmen voted unanimously to increase the tenure of culture in the former school, expanding the two-year culture center trial for an additional five years.

Carey made it perfectly clear the garden could be expanded, emphasizing “we have room to grow.”

Selectmen had a three-pronged agenda item relating to the cultural center. The first was an update on the financial plan and expenses. Carey pointed out the 28 classroom studios on the two-floor structure are fully in use and are expected to generate $116,480 annually.

There are also projected revenues for the portable classrooms, shop, library, auditorium, cafeteria and court yard, the art room, gym and Cape Verdean Museum, which combined with the studios will generate $149,180 annually.

A contingency in the continued growth of the center is providing another part-time program coordinator and a second part-time custodian, she said. With the additional personnel, Carey said, more revenue can be generated through additional space rental over the extended time frame. Projected annual spending for the operation is $229,862, which includes $20,000 to address future capital needs for the building.

In recent years the town has been appropriating $125,000 to cover utilities, insurance and maintenance while the building sat idle. The cultural center now has a revolving fund that covers many of the operational costs. That fund, which previously contained a balance of $27,680, now holds $112,945. Carey projected a $80,000 deficit this year.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill praised Carey for taking on the program and broadening it. He said the board has approved the first rate increase for use of the center, adding in doing so they did not want to drain the artists' pockets.

Selectman Larry Ballantine said he was a supporter of a previous affordable housing proposal for the building, but he is comfortable with what has transpired. He praised Carey for doing a great job, pointing out she has helped see him see the value of the cultural center. He said the $80,000 net deficit is reasonable.

Ballantine said there is a potential to expand other aspects of the facility, such as getting the cafeteria operational. He asked if a capital plan for the building has been provided to the capital outlay committee.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said it is only one year into the cultural center, and with one year left in the selectmen's initial endorsement, it is hard to fit that planning into the town's 10-year building maintenance plan. Clark said suggested a three-to-five year extension for the center. If town meeting approves the Green Community proposal, it would open up the former school building to grants for needed green improvements, he added.

Selectman Julie Kavanagh said the center adds a lot of value to the town. Selectman Jannell Brown questioned the accuracy of the $80,000 deficit. She suggested the numbers shown for revenue generation are conservative.

Brown offered a motion to extend the trial period for the cultural center for an additional five years. The board approved the motion. Harwich Cranberry Festival President Ed McManus praised the vote, noting plans of the festival committee to do a summer music series in the courtyard at the center. He also said the decision to expand the trial period will open up grant opportunities for organizations in town.

The board held back on a request to locate a labyrinth on the front lawn of the center. Brown said she wanted first to make sure there was no conflict between church and state in the presence of the labyrinth. But she also said there might be a better location to the rear of the building. Selectman agreed to examine other sites for the meditative pathway.