Cultural arts center ARTS/West, 132 W. State St., is targeted to officially reopen the first week of January, thanks to newly invested Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
The reopening comes after the abrupt closure of ARTS/West on Aug. 7, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Mayor Steve Patterson, the arts center shut down due to the governor’s initial Ohio Department of Health guidelines, which included an order that shut down places of entertainment.
“(ARTS/West) shut down, along with everything else that was shutting down due to the pandemic,” Patterson said. “Back on August 25, the governor rescinded that order to where entertainment centers could reopen again up to 15% of what their full capacity is.”
Patterson said he’s glad to see the arts center reopen because it gives people an opportunity to focus on less stressful activities during the pandemic—even if it’s just something like a virtual class.
CARES Act funding is disbursed from the federal level to the state, then flows down to counties and is finally distributed to cities and villages for different COVID-related expenses. The city of Athens has spent almost $350,000 across all departments, Deputy Service-Safety Director Andrew Chiki said in an email.
“Related to ARTS/West specifically, the (city) has invested funding toward upgrading infrastructure, including a remote communication system and funding fiber/upgrading broadband to the building,” Chiki said in an email.
ARTS/West will offer digital and online programming with its new funding. The fiber upgrading is for fiber-optic cables that will provide ARTS/West with higher quality internet connection and broadband. The cable will be installed underground and connect ARTS/West to the city building on East Washington Street.
Along with the construction of a new wheelchair ramp to make ARTS/West more accessible, Chiki noted that the city’s CARES Act investment for these upgrades will be nearly $100,000.
City Council President Chris Knisely said that funding to the arts center were provided after an unanimous City Council vote.
“I feel confident that this was a good use of money because it’s going to benefit a lot of people in the community,” Knisely said.
Because the arts center isn’t officially reopening until January, ARTS/West program specialist Emily Beveridge is currently working out of the Athens Recreation Center, 701 E. State St. Beveridge said that over the past few months, many people have fought for ARTS/West by planning a nonprofit group called Friends of ARTS/West.
“(The nonprofit group) would open up the possibility for significantly more funding streams, and it would be easier for people to directly donate funding for specific things,” Beveridge said. “Or, for us to be eligible for certain grants that we currently aren’t as a city.”
After being laid off due to the initial closure, Beveridge is relieved to be back and working for ARTS/West. She’s seen a lot of positive feedback and support about ARTS/West reopening.
“I think that it shows where the community’s values are,” Beveridge said. “Anytime somebody makes the efforts to (help)—because everyone’s lives are busy and we’re living in really uncertain times—for people to go out of their way to show support for something, (it) shows that they obviously care.”