Sunday, March 14, 2004

Vacant church to become art hub

Rising Sun hopes rehab lures visitors downtown

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rising Sun's future community arts center is this 172-year-old vacant church.

An hour southwest of Fountain Square, in the shadow of the Grand Victoria Casino, the small town Main Street of Rising Sun has been slowly reviving and redeveloping as an arts stop.

Harps on Main had the bright idea of "Harp-sicles," miniature harps in candy bright colors, and they are doing big business shipping them to California. The Rising Sun branch of the Pendleton Art Center has 35 artists and Final Fridays just like Cincinnati's, and there are plans for nationally touring exhibitions next year.

But Tammy Elbright, director of the town's Historic Downtown Program, is occupied with plans to open the doors of what she hopes will be Main Street's artistic centerpiece.

Built in 1832

The First Presbyterian Church, built in 1832in a Romanesque Revival style, small enough not to overwhelm a river town congregation and charming with its bell tower's simple stained glass windows, has been sitting empty for more than a decade. Step inside and you can see - and smell - its stale disuse.

Rising Sun Redevelopment Commission and the City bought the church in 2003, and planto re-open it as a community arts center. The existing church will be a 160-seat theater. This week, a barn to the rear will be demolished, making room for backstage, dressing rooms, loading dock, kitchen and a lobby with gallery space.

The price tag will be about $1 million and Elbright's busily writing grants. The city of Rising Sun has already promised a $200,000 matching grant, and what has already been accomplished on Main Street should help make the sale for state and federal support.

If your first thought is that casino dollars can easily cover the arts center's costs, Elbright corrects that misperception. That money goes to infrastructure - schools, emergency services, law enforcement, all of which are looking hearty these days.

Elbright thinks a thriving theater will be the perfect lure to draw casino tourists into town. The shuttle that currently runs between the casino's front door and its Main Street stop, she says, isn't as full as it should be.

Somewhere down the road, Elbright expects there to be a programming endowment through Rising Sun's community fund.

Conversations beginning

She has already visited Footlighters and their Stained Glass Theater in Newport. Elbright says she's happy to start conversations now with performing artists from throughout the region. (Call her at 812-438-2750 or e-mail down She is, of course, also happy to accept contributions toward the renovation.

"We are looking not just for local but for national attention," Elbright says as she stands outside her office on a cold, sleet-splotched day with the kind of smile reserved for cloudless sunshine.

From where she stands, Elbright can see down Main Street to the green space at the river. "We don't dream small," she says.

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