Monday, May 21, 2001

Miami U. leases building for community theater

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        OXFORD — A local landmark is coming out of mothballs to serve the community.

        Dating from 1849, the building that housed Oxford College for Women will soon be renovated to serve as a community arts center.

        The building's owner, Miami University, signed a long-term lease April 17 with the Oxford Community Arts Center.

        “The goal is to create a center that will serve all Oxford-area residents, from Talawanda schoolchildren and youth to retirees,” said Bob Campbell, OCAC board president.

        With the lease agreement in place, OCAC is contracting with a fund-raising consultant to plan a campaign for the $2.5 million the renovation is estimated to cost. Mr. Campbell said an anonymous donor has already pledged $1 million toward that goal.

        “We take over the building in May 2002. That gives us a year to put together our funding and final plans for renovation,” he said.

        But Oxford arts organizations are already dreaming. The former chapel will be redesigned as theater space. It will house the Oxford Area Community Theater, or OxAct, but will be available for musical recitals and local school theatricals.

        The gracefully proportioned ballroom, added in the 1920s, could be used for choral performances, wedding receptions, art exhibitions and dances.

        “When we talk about "the arts' in our community, we mean music — both vocal and instrumental, theater, dance and the visual arts,” Mr. Campbell said. “In order for these community arts groups and programs to flourish in Oxford, a permanent home is needed.”

        Having such a permanent home will make a huge difference for OxAct, said board member Ginger Scott-Johnson. Like many community theatre groups, OxAct often must use a different venue for each production.

        “As a director, I'm acutely aware of all the difficulties of moving around, sometimes not knowing until two weeks beforehand where we will perform,” she said.

        Miami University usually provides space for OxAct productions, but can't always tell the group in advance which auditorium will be available.

        “There's just an enormous amount of extra work in volved because we don't have a permanent home,” Ms. Scott-Johnson said. “OxAct won't grow until we have that home. It's hard to keep a following.”

        If all goes according to plan, Ms. Scott-Johnson and her fellow thespians will be able to unpack their bags by January 2003, when the center opens.

        For more information about the project, check out the group's Web site:


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