BAYarts updates community on former playhouse
About 30 people attended an informational town hall meeting at BAYarts on May 9 to learn about progress and plans for the former Huntington Playhouse. Executive Director Nancy Heaton, board President Mary Conway Sullivan and board VP and manager of the project, Peter Winzig (all residents of Bay Village) talked about the history and future of the cultural arts campus. The meeting was held in the lobby of the playhouse and guests were able to peak into the old theater and stage, and see the work that needs to be done in order to reopen the doors.
Heaton introduced the discussion with a brief history of the arts organization, now in its 70th year. BAYarts and the former playhouse organizations are affiliates of Cleveland Metroparks, which means they have a collaborative relationship for construction projects and the footprint of the park.
Past projects include the restoration of the Irene Lawrence Fuller House (2010), the construction of the Karen Ryel Ceramic Arts & Education Studio (2015), the installation of lighting and creation of accessible sidewalks, utility upgrades, landscape installation and maintenance. BAYarts leases the buildings from the Cleveland Metroparks, but is responsible for all improvements and maintenance. Vento la Trattoria is subleased from BAYarts.
Heaton talked about the need to raise funds to restore the playhouse which BAYarts acquired after a public bidding process. Safety and accessibility issues are the priority for any public use; and with a goal of providing year-round programming, heat, insulation and utility upgrades need to be addressed.
Winzig explained that the renovation will be done in three phases, beginning with the west "lobby" for use by this summer for classes and events, followed by the eastern "barn" section and then the middle theater section, which will be the most costly and complex piece of the renovation. Local architect Stephen Schill was the first to come on board and support the project, donating drawings and designs to present to potential funders and address capital needs. The organization has now retained John Williams, of Process Creative Studios, for his experience with non-profit budgets and cultural institutions. (Dobama Theater, SPACES gallery, Transformer Station and the Heinen's rotunda downtown are a few of his signature projects.)
The organization has begun a capital campaign with a goal of raising $4 million for the renovation and endowment. They have received funding and pledges from individuals and capital improvement funds from the state. Naming rights and other funding opportunities are outlined on the BAYarts website, as well as the history of the campus and updates on the project. BAYarts recently launched BAYarts Cultural Access Fund through the Cleveland Foundation, a way for donors to invest in this project and the future of the organization.
As far as how the playhouse will be used, Heaton explained, "Our summer classes sold out faster than 'Hamilton' tickets, literally, in three minutes. We hate to turn away students and this has long been an issue for BAYarts, so that is a priority; but this opens up the opportunity to offer more types of classes, both visual and performing arts. So when we talk about flexible space, a classroom can double as an event space and a stage can become a classroom. ... These are the types of creative solutions we are exploring, to provide a variety of experiences yearround."
BAYarts has engaged Maryann Nagel, a Bay Village resident and professional actress, to help develop theater education and programming, inviting fellow professionals to participate.
"I promise this will be nothing like you've seen in northeast Ohio," said Heaton. "We're raising the bar (again) and with the community behind us, it will become a reality."
Jessica Stockdale is the Marketing Manager at BAYarts.