Karrh Center moves closer to completion

Good news! The renovations at The Karrh Center, home of the historic Dixie Theatre, are nearing finalization. Jacquie Brasher has been executive director of the Emanuel Arts Council since 2016, and she has been heavily involved with the renovation process since the beginning. She outlined to The Crossroads in an email the project’s latest achievements.

Currently, contractors are putting the finishing touches on the floors and stairs. Once completed, the ground floor will be home to the Kalmanson Art Gallery, named after retired EGSC art professor Neil Kalmanson.

Local attorney Jerry Cadle has donated a large, U-shaped desk that was once used in his law office. The desk was built in 1980 by Roy Joe Boulineau.

Additionally, several pieces of furniture have been donated by Wade and Christi Hutchings.

Brasher went on to explain that, again, once completed, the upstairs portion of the space will be a studio-style office for the EAC.

She also mentioned that Mayor Charles Schwabe has asked Margaret Anne Allmond of Custom Furniture to help furnish the gallery and offices. Brasher commented on Allmond’s contributions, stating she brings a “wealth of knowledge and experience” related to interior decorating and furnishing to the project, and she has been enthusiastic and energetic throughout her involvement to date.

The circled move-in date, according to the leader of the arts council, is late summer or early fall. Shortly after settling in, there will be a grand reopening—specifically, an open house combined with the first art show at the new gallery. Be on the lookout for details in the coming months.

As for the connection between the EAC and The Karrh Center, Brasher explained, “I was hired as the part-time executive director of Emanuel Arts Council, Inc. five years ago. At that time in 2016, the EAC no longer had a building because it had to be sold for financial reasons. If it hadn’t been for the immense support of the City of Swainsboro, the Swainsboro-Emanuel Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority, and Jack Bareford, we might not be here today.”

She continued, “The EAC is a part of the Barbara & Tobe Karrh Community Arts Center. The theater and the EAC are two separate non-profit organizations under one roof. I think that’s what I’m most excited about: the EAC will finally have a home! We have been nomadic for so long, depending on our community to lend us a place to hold our events. We have been incredibly fortunate that East Georgia State College and Southeastern Technical College graciously allowed us to use their auditoriums to perform our plays. The Mill Creek Foundation has always been there for our art camps and has fully funded them every summer. Of course, the Fulford Center has been a wonderful venue for our art camps each summer. However, the fact that when this project is done, we’ll be under the same roof… It’s symbiotic of our relationship with one another, and each organization will be working with the other to bring arts events to our community.”

That in itself—bringing the arts back to Swainsboro—is something the EAC’s board of directors is anxious to do. President Kenny Griffin, Secretary Katelyn Moore, Gallery Director Desmal Purcell, Theater Director Christian Kraus, Lynn Brinson, Huddie Culbreth, Julie Frix, Jim Roberts, Jill Scarboro, Jean Schwabe, Annette Worthen, and Syvetta Young have been hard at work behind the scenes, along with innumerable others, to revitalize the historic Green Street operation with the hope that the public enjoys the fruits of their labor for years to come.

“It’s no secret that funding for the arts in public schools has declined dramatically through the years,” Brasher said. “Yet, I personally think we need the arts more than ever, especially in this digital age of limited attention spans and instant ‘information.’ The EAC has conducted art camps at the Sudie Fulford Center since 2016, and I have witnessed how these children have responded to their art project; they are extremely focused and disciplined. I truly believe these classes will help them later on in life. Studies have shown that children who participate in theater and art projects tend to develop critical thinking skills early, which is crucial. These skills will help them in college, in the workplace, and beyond.”

Although the renovations haven’t been completed as of late, the board is already starting to flesh out possible events for the community. Purcell, who also teaches art at East Georgia State, is tasked with arranging all art shows. He will look to his already established network of artists to plan a varied slate of shows to include photography, paintings, mixed media, sculpture, and just about anything related to the word “art.”

The auditorium portion of the center, when completed, will be used for first-run movies, plays, and live music.

Already, Brasher has found most of the public to be excited about the theatre’s rebirth. The Emanuel Arts Council was established some 40 years ago, and many children who attended events at the old arts center now have children of their own. Brasher says in that way, the EAC is in the hearts and minds of many townspeople, which is a strength of sorts in that many locals remember who the organization is and what it has done in the past. Many of those people have offered to help as the renovation process unfolded, and the EAC is grateful for those pledges.

On that note, The Chronicle also looked to Downtown Development Authority Director Lynn Brinson. She provided context of her own for this update, beginning with historical tidbits from her perspective, following that with an overview of the financials, and ending full-circle with Brasher’s note about the many people who have breathed life back into the theatre so far.

According to Brinson, the revitalization of the Dixie Theatre at The Karrh Center was initiated by the Bill and Jim Karrh and the 2015 Swainsboro City Council. Next, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Emanuel Coalition for Cultural & Economic Development (ECCED), was established to assist with fundraising activities and help guide the project.

“The theatre project had been a goal of the City of Swainsboro and the DDA for many years as evidenced by its inclusion in the 2007 Joint Comprehensive Plan,” she said. “The project was set into motion in 2015 when the Swainsboro City Council accepted the donation of the property from Bill and Jim Karrh for restoration as the Barbara & Tobe Karrh Community Arts Center.”

To date, the community arts center in its entirety comes with a price tag estimated at approximately $1.8 million. This estimate includes the full restoration of the theatre including cinema equipment and sound/lighting for live performances, addition of concession area, restrooms, and dressing rooms, and the buildout of the Emanuel Arts Council offices and gallery space. Funding has been derived from a number of sources, including private donations to the project, fundraising events, corporate support, the 2017 SPLOST, and a number of grants such as those from the Nordson Foundation, Fox Theatre Institute, and Georgia Council for the Arts, among others.

Brinson went on to describe about those involved, “The ECCED has a board of directors as well as an at-large committee of volunteers. Other supportive groups and organizations include the Emanuel County Board of Commissioners, the Downtown Development Authority of Swainsboro, the Emanuel Arts Council, the Swainsboro-Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority, the Emanuel County Festival Foundation, and the Mill Creek Foundation. Of course, many Emanuel County citizens have reached into their pockets to contribute their hard-earned dollars to this project. We have made a point throughout this project to spend these funds that our supporters have entrusted to us responsibly. We are working diligently to provide a space that our residents can be proud of while being as economical as possible.”

Total, about 300 individuals have donated to this project with dozens of businesses and organizations also contributing.

“For those who have supported the Barbara & Tobe Karrh Community Arts Center, we offer our most sincere appreciation,” Brinson continued. “Every dollar donated has helped us restore this unique piece of Swainsboro history and provide a new educational, cultural, and economic asset for this community.”

As with anything, there have been a few struggles along the way, but Brasher contends those hardships will make the project’s completion all the sweeter.

“We’ve all heard and seen the catchphrase “the struggle is real,” and sometimes it’s just a silly meme to illustrate something trivial. Well, I have to say our struggle has been very, very real for the last five years,” Brasher commented. “We are extremely fortunate to still be alive and kicking. We are essentially starting from scratch now and paving our way. We have to create our membership roster all over again; we lost that part of our organization because we haven’t had a brick-and-mortar home. We have to begin fundraising again to support us financially. We have to rebuild our image. These are all baby steps, but I think we’re finally on our way. Our successes lie with the dedication of our board of directors and community support. Without the support of the city, the DDA, the chamber of commerce, the Mill Creek Foundation, and many individual people, we probably would have disappeared a long time ago. It is a testament to this community that we are valued and that our history here has made a lasting impression.”

So, while things aren’t quite finished on Green Street just yet, Brasher hopes to see everyone as soon as possible. After all, this space was recreated for the public.

“Come and visit us when we are settled! The EAC will be yours to enjoy, and we hope you will love it as much as we do!”

In the meantime, keep an eye out for the next developments related to the theatre project.

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