Guided by the vision of the Nord Family Foundation, Strategy Design Partners, a leading consulting firm based in Cleveland, OH, convened community stakeholders and arts organizations over the course of several years to develop a plan for "a destination for the arts" that, while being anchored in Oberlin, would extend out beyond its physical space, create connections between community, Oberlin College, and arts organizations throughout Lorain County and the region. Specifically, this new organization was tasked with advancing a community arts curriculum to engage student participation, developing a professional development symposium for arts educators, and launching an after-school arts education program amongst others.
During its first three years of operation, Oberlin Center for the Arts has successfully fostered collaborations amongst arts organizations and other partners, delivered arts education programming in partnership with numerous school districts, implemented professional development training to educators throughout the region, piloted community-based creative placemaking projects, and ultimately established itself as the unified voice for arts and culture in Lorain County.
With a rich history dating back to 1873, the home of the Oberlin Center for the Arts has been known by a number of names; including the Union School and Westervelt Hall, but throughout recent history as the New Union Center for the Arts. This artistic hub in Oberlin has been home to some of Oberlin and Lorain County’s most well-known arts organizations; including Choral Spectrum, the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA), Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra (NOYO), Oberlin Choristers, Ohio Dance Theatre, The MAD* Factory and Neos Dance Theatre among others.
Below is a brief timeline of the building;
1873 Groundbreaking occurs and the corner stone of the new edifice at 39 South Main Street was laid with “appropriate ceremonies”.
1874 The building is dedicated on November 9th and the building was described as “a fine specimen of [High Victorian] Gothic architecture”, featuring 11 school rooms, a superintendent’s room, two smaller recitation rooms and a library.
1921 The State Industrial Commission inspected the building and threatened to close it if repairs estimated to cost $75,000 are not made.
1923 The last Union School class graduates, and the bell is taken from the tower and moved to the new high school (now Langston Middle School). The Board of Education tries but fails to sell the building and several adjoining lots.
1927 Local merchant Edmund Westervelt purchases the building for $12,500 and transfers ownership to Oberlin College. The college renovates “Westervelt Hall” for temporary classroom use.
1939 The bell tower was dismantled due to its poor condition.
1961 Oberlin College discontinues using Westervelt hall for classroom space.
1963 The National Association of College Stores begins using the building as a book storage warehouse. Over the next decade, various plans for the structure's reuse were proposed; including a City Hall with a jail in the basement, a public library, private apartments, and even being razed to be used as a parking lot, but thankfully none were realized.
1974 The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
1976 Oberlin College deeds the building to the City of Oberlin
1979 A.H. “Kenny” Clark purchases the building for $32,500 and undertakes an exterior renovation.
1983 Westervelt Hall serves as headquarters for Oberlin's Sesquicentennial Committee
1992 The building acts as a temporary site for the Oberlin Co-op Bookstore
1995 Guided by Jane Nord’s vision of creating a lasting place for the arts in Oberlin, The Nord Family Foundation purchases the building from Kenny and Ada Clark, and in August begin a $2M historic renovation.
1996 The “New Union Center for the Arts” was re-dedicated on June 21, 1996 and became home to seven local arts organizations
1997 The bell tower was restored in partnership with what is now the Oberlin Heritage Center.
Today The building continues to act as a home for the arts in Oberlin and Lorain County.
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