Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Rochelle Noblett, executive director of the Madera Arts Council, center right, and board president Jim Glynn, far right, are joined by Stephanie Reed and Shaunt Yemenjian of Paul Halajian Architects, at the old Madera Library to determine if might be a possible future temporary expansion site for Circle Gallery.
If the Madera County Arts Council has its way, downtown Madera will be a haven for the arts with a gallery, a performing arts center and outdoor performance space.
“The main purpose would be to transform Madera into a vibrant place where people would actually want to come and visit and come to live,” said Rochelle Noblett, executive director of the arts council.
Plans for the council will include space for a gallery, classrooms, banquet facilities, a performing arts center and an outdoor amphitheater. Noblett said the cultural arts district would, in effect, be a civics center, including existing government buildings in the area.
The big ticket item would be the performing arts center, Noblett said.
It would be a multi-purpose facility for concerts, musical and regular theater, and it would bring professional music and comedy acts to Madera.
For the past six months, Noblett has been taking the first steps towards the development of the cultural arts district and said she has been working hard to increase public awareness of the arts council. She said the arts council is doing that by hosting events.
“We have regular events that are bringing people in. We have discovered new artists and have been very successful selling their work. But we have a long way to go because of the fact that we are short on space,” Noblett said.
“This month in March we are booked. Every week we’ve got something going on, so we’re in a very small space right now and we need desperately to get into something big.”
The council is located at Circle Gallery on Schnoor Avenue. Along with needing more space for events, bigger art pieces need more space to be displayed and properly stored, Noblett said.
James Glynn, president of the board of directors for the arts council, said the project would cover a large area of downtown.
He explained that the original plan was to have the district bounded in a rectangle by 4th Street on the north, 8th Street on the south, Gateway Drive on the east and State Route 99 on the west.
Glynn said Paul Halajian Architects of Clovis, who the council is working with on the project, then suggested extending the district east on Yosemite Avenue and 6th Street, stopping at A Street.
The district is still in the infancy stages and Noblett said final architectural plans could be a year in the making.
A newsletter from the arts council stated that an endowment of $2.5 million from the Elaine Secara Trust was given to the council in March 2013 “for the purpose of constructing, maintaining and improving a cultural arts center to be constructed in Madera County.”
Secara, a Madera resident, died in 2010. She and her late husband, Franklin Secara, were both involved with the arts council. Franklin Secara was one of the founders.
“With that money, the arts council had some relevance now to go to the Madera Unified School District and to the city and to the county, and broach the subject with them,” Noblett said.
The city, the county and the school district pitched in money for feasibility study, as well as an architectural team to study the spot for the cultural arts district, she explained.
Noblett said the project is going to be done in phases, so people can get the idea of it and feel proud of it and possibly want to be part of making the rest of it happen. She estimated as a whole the project will cost $30-50 million.
The first phase would include the gallery, classrooms, offices and, possibly, the banquet hall.
Noblett said there is no telling when the project will be finished nor when demolition will begin.
“At this point, some demolition has to happen first before we can even get started on the first phase,” she said. “We’re waiting for a couple of people to move out, the probation department is currently in that space and so when they move out, then we can start on the demolition project and then start with the first phase, but it’s too early to tell when that will be.”
If everything comes to fruition, Noblett said she imagines an average week for the district including things like classes for kids and adults, musical performances, different stages and poetry readings.
“It would have something going on all the time, a vibrant downtown.”
Selina Falcon is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.