Part Five: If You Build It, They Will Come

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The first two phases of The Creamery’s transformation—the creation of the vision and the securing of the funding—had been accomplished. But if the hodgepodge of buildings was going to be an arts center, Springfield’s performing arts groups would have to buy into the vision.

Enter Randy Russell, who played an important role in winning over Springfield’s diverse arts groups to the notion that by unifying their efforts under a single roof, they could achieve a savings in costs as well as a boost in creativity. As he recalls: “It was a very hard sell, especially at first. We were asking people to place their bets on a dream, and to move into an old industrial building that was not only dilapidated but essentially abandoned.”

At the time, several of the local performing arts groups, including the Springfield Ballet and the Springfield Regional Opera (now Springfield Lyric Theater) were facing serious funding challenges and were fighting simply to survive. The Springfield Symphony and Springfield Little Theatre, in contrast, were well established institutions that had worked hard to secure their success and financial independence over the years and were used to operating as individual entities. And as both Russell and Finnie pointed out, arts organizations compete strongly for essential monetary support from donors, a fact of life that breeds understandable caution about collaborating with other groups.

As Russell puts it: “Looking at the successful and energetic Creamery today, its role as an arts center seems an obvious use of the building, but the concept wasn’t an immediate sell. No one wanted to be dictated to or consolidated into a larger entity. We were asking independent organizations to come together to share information and share space. They were used to working without interference or cooperation with other arts groups. Now, we were urging them to work together.”

Russell found an early supporter in the Springfield Symphony’s popular conductor at the time, Australian-born Ron Spigelman. The organization was badly in need of new headquarters; its offices in a former private home in Smith Park were cramped and aging, and its instruments were stored in a variety of donated spaces around town. As Russell recalls: “Before rehearsals and performances, the symphony used to rent a truck to go around town and collect its instruments from a variety of storage rooms.” The Creamery building offered an opportunity to consolidate all the symphony’s operations in a single space where instruments could be stored in a climate-controlled environment.”

The building's north wall, prior to reconstruction.
The building's north wall, prior to reconstruction.

The Springfield Ballet, which earned most of its sustaining funds from offering ballet lessons to young students, was badly in need of new studios. The unique needs of the ballet, including sprung floors for its studios, could be addressed in the renovation of the old building, a point Russell stressed in winning over company leaders to the Creamery vision. And now the renovation was set to begin—an undertaking that would result in the creation of rehearsal spaces for the ballet that combined vintage decor with up-to-date flooring, lighting and other amenities.

The building required a major overhaul before it could become an arts center.
The building required a major overhaul before it could become an arts center.