Thursday, January 31st, 2013
By Eric Adams
New Wassenberg Art Center will be triple the size
  VAN WERT - Military facilities and artistic faculties often are not considered compatible; however, this summer Van Wert residents may see an exception to that thought.
The Wassenberg Art Center, which has served the community nearly 60 years, will gain more space when it moves from the former Wassenberg residence to the former armory down the street on U.S. 127.
Originally slated for demolition, the 11,000-square-foot armory was purchased in late August by the Van Wert County Foundation. Hope Wallace, executive director of Wassenberg, said the foundation primarily used funds from the bequest of founder Charles Wassenberg.
Supplementary monies will come from a campaign during which local businesses and community members can donate toward new art equipment, sculptures and landscaping items.
The current center offers about 3,500 square feet of usable space, and its pottery room is located in the basement, which means people with limited mobility cannot access it. Also unavailable is the home's upstairs.
"It became apparent that we needed a new facility," Wallace said. "(The armory) is much larger and is designed for assembly."
The armory also meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Other reasons for expansion include visibility and community improvement.
Residents often overlook the current location, Wallace said, because it was a former private residence situated between other homes. The armory stands in plain view.
Wallace pointed out the arts industry in Northwest Ohio accounts for 33,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in annual revenue. That's roughly the equivalent of 10 Whirlpool factories or 95 Bass Pro Shops, she said.
The new center is tentatively planned to open in early June. It will host up to 10 exhibits annually and 10-15 art classes and programs quarterly.
Events commonly hosted at the current Wassenberg center include the Ohio Watercolor Society's regional exhibit, a regional photography contest that draws submissions from all over the state and occasional exhibits that feature the work of one prominent artist.
An artist residency program will be resurrected; the center has been unable to host artists due to spacial limitations. Resident artists at the armory location will stay in the former caretaker's quarters, which Wallace said are about the size of a single-resident apartment.
She added that an armored storage area will provide ideal protection for some of the center's highly valuable art, and the former mess hall will serve as a good space for community clubs and organizations to convene.
Wallace also envisions a small stage somewhere within the 60-by-100-foot gallery where local bands and theater groups can perform.
Total renovations to the nearly 75-year-old armory will include a new roof, heating, electrical and plumbing updates, as well as extensive changes to the interior decor.
Outside the building a veteran's memorial area is slated for construction, and foot bridges will cross Town Creek, connecting the center to Van Wert's downtown area.
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