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The Center for the Arts Celebrates 30 Years

"Many people from all over the country and the world visit the CVCA. Many comment that they wish their community had a "place like this."Suzanne Lederman. Photo by Diana Tunis

And continues to grow from small beginnings

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Before the Center for the Arts became the dazzling white gem of Broad Street, serving both as the creative pulse of this community and the core of so many events, it was on its way to becoming one of downtown Globe’s forgotten structures, lost beneath layers of dust and dirt.

The neoclassical revival building’s 14-foot ceilings and 20,000 square feet once housed Globe’s courthouse and seat of county government for nearly 70 years. On May 27, 1975, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places.

A year later, the county administration abandoned it. For another eight, it laid vacant, and the building began to quickly deteriorate and collect dust.

That is, until 1984, when a third generation Globe native by the name of Bob Bigando—Globe’s development director at the time—cut a deal with the county to lease the old courthouse to a group of artists who would adopt the building in exchange for restoring it to its original condition. Envisioning an art gallery inside, with a third floor allocated to putting on community plays, Bigando raised $8000 in contributions and grant funding.

In an interview with the Arizona Republic, he said that he saw the restoration as a means to solving a number of problems, including preserving a valuable structure and revitalizing downtown. Of course, it was also a means to celebrate art and culture within Globe.

Not to mention the fact that a group of local artists had been restoring various buildings around town to use as an art gallery, only to get thrown out of each one. 

“The minute we got a building in good shape, the people who let us have it ousted us,” remembers Charmion McKusick, who had been previously running a pottery business in Tucson with her husband Robert McKusick.

Needless to say, when the old courthouse became available, the McKusicks, along with the other artists, were on board to restore it. Over the next decade, they dedicated themselves to bringing the building back to life.

The third floor is home to the Community Players as well as the Summer Youth Theater production. Photo by Jenn Walker

It was no easy task. Jon Stahlnecker and Laurie Manzano remember well. The couple are part of the original restoration group. As a 42-year-old sculptor and 38-year-old painter (respectively), the East Coast natives saw the renovation as an opportunity to create a place where they could showcase their artwork, so they embraced the cleanup of the building as a full-time job.

“It was dark and dungeon-y,” Stahlnecker remembers.

There was only a pathway to the front room. The other rooms were blocked off and the windows were caged. The roof leaked.

“There were pigeon holes everywhere. If I had to use one or two words, they would be rat hole,” Manzano adds. “At first, we worked a few hours a couple times a week. Then we realized that wasn’t going to cut it. We just about lived in that building.”

The group knocked out all the wall partitions that had been put into the building to create cubicles. They removed false ceilings, tore out worn linoleum, patched up holes in the floors and refinished them, cleaned up water damage, repainted, rewired, and re-plumbed as much of the building as they could.

The crew easily moved 15 dump truck-loads worth of plasterboard, old carpeting, and linoleum out of the building.

Robert, a tile and mosaic artist, cast reproductions of the one remaining capital of one of the columns. McKusick remembers building it up and restoring it. They used a combination of maguey (aka century plant) and hydrocal. It’s ten times harder than plaster, McKusick says, and it’s the next best thing to stone.

At the time all this was happening, the artists formed the Cobre Valley Fine Arts Guild. Once the front room was complete (it took less than a year), the guild hosted one-person and group exhibits for years. Bit by bit, the popularity of the center grew.

“Everyone was glad we were doing this because the center had been such an eyesore,” McKusick remembers. “There it had sat at the main intersection of town.”

The Center hosts artists work including world-renowned works by Frank Balaam. Photo by Kenneth Chan.

After the center was brought to a presentable condition, the artists, in partnership with the Copper Cities Community Players (the local acting troupe), raised money to bring the building up to state fire and safety codes. A fire escape and a walk-in safe door was added to the building, in addition to a chairlift and sprinkler system.

Stahlnecker and Manzano remained involved with the center and the guild for roughly ten years.

“I didn’t realize it would be such a rich part of our lives,” Manzano, now 69, says in hindsight.

“Overall, what we were doing was so rewarding,” she adds. “That building is a treasure now.”

More artists came and others left. The center only continued to grow and evolve as each artist left their mark. In alignment with Bigando’s early hopes, the Community Players adopted the third floor to put on plays, and took on the task of restoring the third floor.

The center attracted artists from all walks of life, including Suzanne Lederman, a dancer from the East Coast, who became a choreographer for the Community Players in 1990. Like the rest, she saw great potential in the center, and is now in charge of the Summer Youth Musical Theater Program, which also puts on performances at the center.

Summer Youth Theater. Photo by Diana Tunis.

“It’s really exciting to be in a place that supports the creative,” she says. “What’s important about this place is the possibilities… The beauty of having our theater is it gives you the opportunity to bring your ideas into being, to realize your ideas.”

Renovations of the building continued over the years so it could be used for a wider variety of uses. For many years, it housed a photography club, as well as a film club.

In 2000, artist Frank Balaam and Globe native Kip Culver became the new co-directors of the center.

Culver had been away from home for some years. Yet, prior to ever becoming director, he had, in fact, been given a tour of the center back in the mid-80s.

“My initial association with the the arts center was you knew it was a wonderful place,” Culver recalls.

Balaam eventually resigned as co-director. Culver remained, and over the last 14 years has overseen a wealth of projects, including: the development of the Rose Mofford Collection Room, the remodel of the main gallery, replacing the florescent lights, the creation of the Governor’s Room, installation of air conditioning on the third floor, the recovery and remodel of the first three rooms, repairing the exterior paint, an electrical upgrade, and reclaiming a good 5,000 square feet of the building, to name a few.

These days, the center continues to house member artists and the Community Players, as well as the Blue Hands Art Academy, the Music Academy, the Copper Country Quilters, the Globe-Miami Youth Choir, and the White Porch Gifts & Antiques.

Though grant funding has shriveled in the last five years, Culver continues to successfully pull in funding and volunteer work for the center.

“You’ve got to keep growing up,” he says.

Now, the center is on its way to having an elevator. In fact, at the time this story was written, bids for the elevator were scheduled for June 25.

The way Culver sees it, the center was aptly named.

“It’s the core of our community,” he says. “I can’t see our community without it.”

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