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Art League of Lincoln scopes out New Digs

By: By Carol R. Percy Lincoln News Messenger Reporter
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The Art League of Lincoln’s board poured through the doors leading into the second floor of the old City Hall Monday, their mood ebullient, their talk as excited as school children on a field trip.

Just a week after being given the bad news that Gladding, McBean could no longer house annual art shows, Art League of Lincoln is well on their way to finding a new site for America’s Clayfest, slated to open the last week of April, according to Art League of Lincoln’s executive director Jean Cross.

The show, formerly called Feats of Clay and presented by the now defunct Lincoln Arts organization, moves into its 25th year.

“I’m sad to lose Gladding McBean — I’m a former sculptor for the factory — but I think (the new venue) is going to be a wonderful place for the city of Lincoln.”

Before the art league can host the America’s Clayfest art show at a city-owned building such as the old City Hall, City Council must vote on whether to give the organization space. City Councilman Paul Joiner said that discussion would occur at either Tuesday’s City Council meeting or the Feb. 26 meeting. Meetings are at 6 p.m. at the McBean Park Pavilion.

During an emergency meeting with Gladding, McBean plant manager Jerry Stacy on Jan. 28, Art League of Lincoln board members were told that the factory was canceling the art show and tours due to concerns over possible ADA litigation.

Stacy expressed regret over the decision to close the factory to the art event but said that “legal risks are higher than in past years so it’s no longer possible to allow public access to the factory.”

Gladding, McBean will offer some financial support for the America’s Clayfest, according to Stacy.

The eviction news “came as quite a shock to us,” Cross reported on a Facebook page, “but we will go ahead with the show in a different venue.”

To that end, Art League of Lincoln issued a formal request to City Council last week to lease the second floor of the old City Hall off of Beermann Plaza.

Councilman Joiner said that the request is being discussed and that one scenario might include a $1-per-year lease with Art League of Lincoln covering utilities and insurance.

Although termed “the old City Hall,” the 10,000-square-foot-building facing Beermann Plaza on Fifth Street in Lincoln, is about 10 years old. The Lincoln Police Department used the building from 2008 to 2010.

Old City Hall now houses the Lincoln Area Archives Museum on the ground floor. The second-floor space is 5,000 square feet of bright open areas combined with small side rooms, several equipped with sinks.

“This space offers a lot of opportunity for the community,” Cross said. “I’d like to see it used as offices, classrooms, workshop studios and a gift shop. I don’t want ALL to be just an art club for artists. I want it to be for everyone to enjoy the arts. You don’t have to be an artist to belong.”

Cross said it has been her “dream to create an art center in Lincoln” that would offer year-round classes for children and adults, art demonstrations, a virtual gallery and a little theater.

Art League of Lincoln president Paul Apfel, said the old City Hall space would make more sense from an all-around business perspective.

“With the Gladding, McBean tours out of the way, this space, with its large square footage and potential makes more sense than it would have in the past,” Apfel said.

Although the inaugural America’s Clayfest lost its venue and Gladding, McBean tours will not be offered as part of the event, Art League of Lincoln vice president and America’s Clayfest administrator-curator Mike Daley said that the event is moving ahead.

 “So far, we have 80 artists and 180 entries and the quality of the art is as good if not better than what we had in the past,” Daley said.