On either side of West Pioneer Avenue near Bartlett Street, Woodard Creek flows from the Pratt Museum to the Homer Council on the Arts and on into Kachemak Bay. In discussions about protecting the shared waterway, leaders of both organizations realized the creek united them not just geographically, but collaboratively.
“The Pratt and HCOA came together in kind of a funny way through the creek,” said Diane Converse, Pratt Museum executive director.
In July, the Pratt and HCOA announced creation of the Woodard Creek Arts and Culture Complex, a plan that would include the new museum building, the current building and associated structures. Talks will continue this year between the two cultural organizations about what that complex will be.
“That’s our work over the winter, to really talk about how that would work, how it could be done,” Converse said.
That collaboration also comes about as part of a fiscal reality faced by many nonprofit organizations in times of declining state and municipal funding. To keep programs going, organizations have to see where missions overlap.
“In the last year or so, that realization has hit. A lot of people are shedding their needs to be in a silo and are working together,” Converse said.
New HCOA executive director Peggy Paver leapt into the collaboration feet first. A dance choreographer from Ashland, Ore., she had gone to a conference last spring with the Foraker Group in Anchorage that talked about nonprofit collaboration. She met Converse and former HCOA director Gail Edgerly and drove down with them to Homer. They talked about possible shared endeavors all the way south.
Paver said that as a choreographer she uses a collaborative method.
“It’s fascinating to me that as soon as I landed in Alaska, I’m in discussion with the director of the Pratt Museum on how to collaborate,” she said.
One big element in the Woodard Creek Arts and Culture Complex is the current museum, built in the 1960s as part of the Alaska Centennial. When the Pratt looked at expanding its space, the board of directors and staff realized it would be too expensive to remodel the old building. Its plan is to construct a new, single-level building on its 10-acre lot near the location of the current shop. An addition on the north or creek side of the building would be taken down to allow space for daylighting Woodard Creek.
The old building still had value, and in meetings in 2010, the Pratt put out the challenge to other organizations: Here’s a building. If you can come up with a plan and financing to repurpose it, here’s an opportunity. Lots of people had ideas, but no one came forth with concrete proposals. The Pratt decided it would tear down the building and use the foundation for a future boat pavilion.
All that changed when Paver and Converse started talking. At the same time, the Homer Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture needs assessment showed community support for a cultural complex.
“All those things coalesced. We reopened the question about the existing building,” Converse said.
After the Pratt builds its new building and has moved its collection there, the old building could be used for performances and other uses.
“Providing a space that has studio space and meeting space and potentially a small theater?” Paver said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Paver said she’s baffled that Homer doesn’t have a community center, a place for community gatherings, election discussions and debates. The old Pratt building could serve that need.
“I see that could potentially be a place the community comes to for all sorts of purposes,” she said.
“One thing that could happen, it could be used and probably would be used for conferences and meetings. It could be rented out, adding to the menu of things the community could offer for larger events like that,” Converse said.
Initially, the building would need minimal remodeling to serve some of those purposes. Downstairs is a meeting room with a small kitchen. Upstairs are two exhibit areas. The special exhibits gallery has good acoustics, Converse noted. In the long range, the upstairs could be remodeled into a small theater with a stage.
“There’s a lot we can do with it pretty much with minimal costs right now. I look at it as a step-by-step thing,” Converse said.
The Woodard Creek Arts and Culture Complex isn’t just about the old building, though. It can involve other cooperation, like HCOA having an office in the new building or both organizations sharing things like front-desk staff. The organizations aren’t talking about merging, Converse said, but collocating.
“There are so many options,” Paver said. “The possibilities are endless. It’s a matter to come to agreement for what will work for both organizations and what will enhance both organizations.”
Collaborations also could start soon and before the new museum is finished, Paver said. There are overlaps between missions. HCOA and the Pratt both have gallery space. The Pratt also does some performances, such as cultural presentations as part of its biennial “Tamamta Katurlluta: A Gathering of Native Traditions.” HCOA has more experience in producing performance art.
“That’s what we do,” Paver said. “When you start taking that apart and looking at it practically, they (the Pratt) don’t have a volunteer base that knows how to be a house manager, knows how to be a stage manager.”
The complex also could stretch beyond the Pratt campus and flow down Woodard Creek. Ashland, Ore., has a park that spread out into a plaza, Paver said. The creek could be a park that might include a sculpture garden, walkways and other outdoor cultural elements. Kathy and Michael Pate, the family that owns a lot between HCOA and Pioneer Avenue, also are part of discussions about Woodard Creek, as is the larger Woodard Creek Coalition.
“That piece is exciting,” Paver said. “The complex could stretch beyond what we originally thought, which is the Pratt campus. There are all kinds of possibilities.”
For now, the Pratt and HCOA staff and boards will talk further about how to collaborate and where to go in the next few years. The Pratt-HCOA collaboration could lead to a model for other arts and cultural organizations to work together, Converse said.
“It’s like the time is right to think larger,” she said. “Instead of thinking resources are disappearing — let’s hunker down. Let’s think of opportunities to collaborate.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.