If you haven’t yet heard, the White Bear Center for the Arts (WBCA) is movin’ on up, and is now housed in a shiny 10,000-square-foot facility. The WBCA, which offers a broad range of art classes and programs for children, teens, adults and families, now has a premier physical space to better serve local artists and looks to become a new community hotspot. “We really look at it as a community center with art at its core,” executive director Suzi Hudson says.
The only center of its kind in the northeast quadrant of the Twin Cities, WBCA serves 5,000 children and youth and 3,000 adults and seniors, with more than 60 artists who teach 600 classes annually. Since 1996, WBCA was housed in the Armory, which was less than 800squarefeet, with a medium-size multi-purpose classroom and use of a shared gym. “It was functional, but certainly not inspirational,” Hudson says. “But as long as the space was empty, we used it for creating art of every medium at all hours of the day to where we were literally busting at the seams.”
Using the city-owned building meant sharing the space, so artists had to bring their own easels, transport work back and forth, and for security purposes, all equipment had to be portable. “This also meant limits to types of art classes and limited growth,” Hudson says. Years of dedication from the artists and eager students, despite the lackluster physical environment, resulted in a tight-knit community that not only recognized the need to grow, but personally invested in it: $1.9 million of the $2.9 million to finance the new space was raised by individual contributions.
The new digs showcase high ceilings and lots of natural light that open onto a community atrium, reception area and lounge that will serve sandwiches and coffee, giving community members a place to relax and enjoy, whether or not they are attending classes. Antique library doors lead into the artist’s library, with reference books and Wi-Fi. The new space offers a classroom studio, multi-use studio, children’s studio, a designated clay studio, which will accommodate more classes and students.
Notably missing from the previous location was room for displaying artwork. Now 1,500 square feet of gallery space is available for exhibitions and performances. “The first exhibit will be a member showcase, and after that we want to develop organically and truly serve what artists in the community want. Our entire model is really seeing what artists want to teach, what students want to learn and how we as an art center can be there to facilitate,” says Hudson.
The WBCA is set on an acre-and-a-half property with classrooms that open to the outdoors so artists can be inspired by nature, including the towering pine trees and a chorus of birds in the five acres of protected wetlands adjacent to the property. There is also an outdoor artists’ commons, entryway sculpture garden, outdoor labyrinth, rain garden and access to walking paths, which will be great spaces for youth summer camps.
Even with all the posh features and new overhead costs, WBCA remains committed to keeping costs affordable for the community. “When you see someone’s artistic expression, ultimately you see their humanity. Connecting a community in this way makes for better neighbors and better citizens. I’m very proud to be a part of that,” says Hudson.
White Bear Center for the Arts, 4971 Long Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.407.0597.