Inside a downtown landmark, work is nearing completion on the Hazleton Art League’s new home.
The new home of the Hazleton Art League will have double — and eventually triple — the space it has now.
Sometime later this year, the league will move from its long-time home at 225 E. Broad St. to the former Security Savings building at 31 W. Broad St.
Kathy Bestwick, co-president of the art league’s board of directors, who founded and ran an art league in Phoenixville, Chester County, said the move will be made when the second of three phases of construction are complete later this year.
“The gallery space on the first floor of the new building will double what we have now,” Bestwick said. “On the lower level, the ceramic studio will be much improved from what we have now. There will be a stained glass and fused glass studio. We have a very robust stained glass and fused glass group of artists.”
With the building’s electrical, plumbing, mechanical and fire suppression systems up to code — and new handicapped-accessible restrooms — construction will begin to transform the former bank lobby into the art gallery, where exhibits and other special events will be held.
Krista Schneider, executive director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, said the $1.2 million in grants raised for the first phase of the project, code renovations, was matched by $1.2 million in private funds raised for the second phase of the project, renovations to the first floor and basement.
In the third and final phase of construction — for which funds have not yet been identified — the second floor will be renovated.
“The gallery is open on two floors,” Bestwick said. “They are going to make a catwalk around the outside perimeter of the room, off the balcony of the board room. There will be a second level. We will double the exhibit space from when we initially get into the building. This (new) gallery is bigger than the gallery we have. Once they put the mezzanine in, it will double the whole thing again.”
Bestwick hopes the new gallery will do for Hazleton what the Banana Factory did for Bethlehem.
“A visual arts center was created there because there was money that was earned through Musikfest and needed to be reinvested in the community,” she said. “Then they got funding from Crayola to create a second gallery space. When they added that second gallery space, and could have two exhibits running concurrently, revenue from art sales and the excitement from their presence in the community went sky high.”
Dr. Carl Frankel, art league co-president, said the expanded gallery will give the organization a chance to show off all it has.
“We have a large permanent collection,” Frankel said. “We can’t exhibit it. We have some of it on the walls (at its present location), but this is a small fraction of what we have. So the increased space will allow us to have more of our permanent collection on exhibit.”
The back of the first floor — where bank offices were located — will become a digital arts studio, a children’s classroom and a kitchen.
“It’s a big step for us to have a dedicated children’s classroom, because now we just put them wherever we can put them,” Frankel said, “We’ve never had a digital studio.”
Bestwick said the art league has many plans for the kitchen, including working with colleges in the area and allowing catered events as a fundraiser.
“We can partner with businesses that want to develop their food program,” she said. “Something that we don’t have here is to actually rent that space out as an event space. So you have this huge gallery, and if businesses wanted to hold events there, private parties, we would have a full kitchen for catering those events. I’m sure we will be able to use the kitchen for several different types of programming.”
The downtown alliance received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build the kitchen, Schneider said.
The computer arts classroom, also on the first floor, also will have many uses, Bestwick said, including being open to local colleges.
It is unlike anything the art league has now.
“There has already been funding donated for the hardware and software. We will have the ability to offer graphic arts and photography. So much is done with digital photography these days,” Bestwick said. “If you have a computer classroom, and you wanted to work with senior centers and bring people in, there are so many opportunities.”
The art league hasn’t yet made plans for one part of the first floor and the entire second floor.
Office space on the first floor is duplicated on the second floor, which includes the old bank’s boardroom. It has a marble fireplace with mahogany accent, and mahogany halfway up the walls. There is stained glass above the boardroom, overlooking the old bank space.
“Randi Pachence is designing a stained glass pane for the Broad Street entrance,” Bestwick said. “With the phase three space, we want to see what the community brings forward, what interests they develop, specifically, what type of art classes are requested.”
One area that will be a big part of the new arts center is the park next door.
“The main entrance will be facing the new city park at Broad and Laurel streets, and it will be canopied,” said Ali McKittrick, the art league’s executive director. “The park already has funding through DHAP to be completely renovated, so it is really going to add value to the space.”
“The cool thing about this center is that it opens up onto the park, and we are planning to make use of the park for outdoor-indoor festivities,” Frankel said.
McKittrick said the arts center, Broad and Barrel pub, Dragon Chinese restaurant and Penn State LaunchBox job incubator represent a $40 million investment.
“It was the most vacant block in the whole downtown, and now it’s going to be really alive,” Frankel said.
Parking will be available in the Northside Parking Plaza to the rear and along nearby streets.
The current art league building is up for sale.
“It is on the market, and a lot of people have come to see it,” Bestwick said. “We have an interested buyer, but we are just in the beginning stages of negotiation. Anyone who buys it would not occupy it until we move out.”
Work continues on the new city arts center in downtown Hazleton. Above is the main floor as it looks now; at right is how an exhibit might appear. Drawings at top show what the arts center’s children’s studio, left, and kitchen might look like once the new home of the Hazleton Art League is complete.
Eastbound motorists on Broad Street will see this view of the new city arts center now under construction in the former Security Savings building in downtown Hazleton. The artist’s sketch was included in a booklet for the Banking on the Arts capital campaign.