Englewood arts center coming to life

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Through the pandemic months, a small group of workers and volunteers had been working to gut the interior of the former Comprehensive Mental Health Services building on Winner Road in Englewood.

The non-profit group Englewood Arts bought the building from the city last October, with plans to convert it into an arts center with various studio and maker spaces. But even as work continued, that wasn’t visible to the public, which only saw the glum exterior.

Monte Short, executive director of the non-profit Englewood Arts, works on building tables for artists to be used in the Englewood Arts Center on Winner Road. [Submitted photo]

“That’s when we decided we needed to show something on the outside,” Englewood Arts Director Michael Baxley said, “and we came up with the mural idea.” 

The group dedicated that 30-foot-tall mural, a collage of portrait pictures of random people in the community, last week during a neighborhood sidewalk art project.

Photographer Julie Gosnell and designer Stacy Scott were selected for the mural, and over the month of July Gosnell snared more than 60 people on the Englewood Arts District sidewalks for portrait shots – people who live or work in or frequent the neighborhood – and they narrowed the pictures down to 48.

Some of those random participants attended last week’s ceremony and posed in front of the mural.

“The point was to randomize it,” Baxley said. “Being on the street and capturing people shows what Englewood’s all about. We got a great group of folks, from young to old and everything in between.

“The only instruction was to not include any staff or anyone involved in the project. It just needed to be folks in the community.”

M&M Painting provided work on the mural, and a donation from the Independence Civic Council helped other exterior work like sand-blasting the limestone before the mural went up, plus the landscaping in front of the building.

Inside, with just two and then four people working, they slowly removed interior walls, utility structures and debris, eventually filling up 18 roll-off dumpsters. Working at the deliberate pace, they made sure to set aside materials that could be reused, such as electrical boxes. Also, Englewood Arts and the city agreed to drop the timeline clauses in their purchase agreement, which had been in place to ensure the building didn’t stay vacant and unkempt.

“Slowing it down allowed us to be more thoughtful,” Baxley said. “We’re almost done with demolition. We want to make it a blank slate.”

Two people who volunteered to have their pictures taken for the Englewood Arts Center mural pose in front of their mural shots last week. [Submitted photo]

With more awareness come more donor dollars, and Baxley said the Rotary Club of Independence has made Englewood Arts the beneficiary of its Mardi Gras celebration next year.

Originally, the group had considered turning the top floor into apartments for artists, but Baxley said that’s been scrapped and the whole structure will be various studio spaces. Instead of living spaces inside the building, the group will partner with Habitat for Humanity in rehabilitation and construction efforts in the neighborhood.

Soft timelines call for the building’s lower floor to be ready next spring, with the rest of the building ready for use by next summer.

“For the Arts Center to be self-sustaining, we have to have diverse programming, and we hope to have about 50 different programs,” Baxley said of next year. “We don’t want to hold to a hard timeline due to COVID, but we’re also getting more sponsors.”