If Cinderella were a building, she might just be The Creamery Arts Center in Springfield, Mo. Once upon a time, this venerable edifice was an overlooked eyesore, a run-down industrial structure that had seen better days and seemed headed for destruction. But then this former tobacco factory and dairy was touched by magic—in the form of creative vision. It was renovated and transformed into a bustling arts center that now serves as a center-city headquarters for the Springfield Regional Arts Council and many of the city's performing arts groups.
Today The Creamery, as the building is widely known, is not only a hub for arts administration: it is also a hands-on arts center, where students take ballet classes, create and edit videos, learn new painting techniques and participate in summer arts programs. It is an art gallery, offering a large, airy space that is home to splendid art exhibits, primarily featuring local artists, that change each month.
The Creamery is also a hard-working storage center, housing the extensive costume and scene shops of the city’s renowned Little Theatre group. It is the home of professional offices, including the headquarters of the highly regarded Springfield Symphony Orchestra. The building boasts an extensive arts library that doubles as a meeting space, and its gallery space hosts monthly art exhibits that open on the city's First Friday ArtWalk nights. It is also the home of the annual Poetry Out Loud competition and other performances each year.
The building's spectacular transformation involved no fairy godmothers waving make-believe wands. Rather, the renovation of The Creamery was made possible by the energy, enthusiasm and hard work of a surprising coalition of stakeholders. The City of Springfield, the Springfield Regional Arts Council, various local arts organizations, regional philanthopic agency the Community Foundation of the Ozarks: all pitched in to help secure the funding that made The Creamery dream a reality.
Along the way, the visionaries behind the project confronted a host of barriers, both expected and unexpected—from slithering snakes and leaky roofs to a national economic slump, from understandably turf-conscious arts boards to skeptical local business moguls.
Yet the magic happened: the building, seemingly bound for demolition, was saved. It was purchased by the city and renovated, thanks to generous donors and an imaginative use of state tax credits. Local arts organizations, some of whom were originally skeptical of the plan, eventually embraced the vision and helped make it a reality.
This history was created to salute the hard work of those who turned "what if?" into "done deal"—and to offer an example to other mid-sized American cities of how arts groups, city agencies, philanthropic organizations and local donors can come together to turn an aging building into a dynamic hub for the arts.