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Is Norwalk capable of supporting the arts? Task force tackles question

bigjoe • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:53 PM

A lot of questions. Not many answers.

Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch is looking for answers.

The question? Is Norwalk ready for the arts? Better yet, are the people willing to pay for the arts?

Lesch has assembled the Performing Arts Task Force to tackle those questions. The group includes Norwalk residents Carol Owens and Len Anderson, who expressed interest in promoting the arts, local artists Dave and Jill James, Norwalk Theater manager Lori Merritt, Main Street Manager Dave Gulden and three others who have worked with the arts in town over the years Don Edwards, Tamara Kagy and Tom Phillips.

"I think there are a lot of people interested and willing to do some things both for youth and adults," Lesch said. "It is something people like to talk about, but it is tough to get those people to come out to the events.

"I think one of the things we can do to increase the involvement is by getting the kids involved. When the kids are involved, a lot of people will come out."

That was the case Friday night during a presentation at Ernsthausen Community Center. Sixteen area youngsters participated in the "Hands in the Mud" art class this summer. The children, under the direction of Linda Stoneham, Dawn Freeman and Bill Young, created their own clay art piece, which will be on display at Ernsthausen.

A good number of the children and their parents turned out for the presentation.

Freeman's W.E.L.L. classes on the calendar include Crafty Tales, Ooodles of Art and Art around the World. For more information about the classes, call Ernsthausen at (419) 668-6775.

Stoneham and Young are involved with the Artists' Open Studio Inc. The purpose of the studio is to provide a supportive environment for adult artists with mental retardation and/or developmental disabilities served by Huron County Board of MRDD so they can pursue their interests in the visual arts. For more information call (419) 668-8840 or (419) 744-2875.

Dave and Jill James serve as both entertainers and instructors in the arts. Many remember Dave as lead singer in Dave James and the Twang Factor. Jill teaches and organizes youth theater productions in town.

Merritt is trying everything she can to get something going at Norwalk Theatre. She had a youth summer camp and has many other plans, but a lack of funding is holding her back.

Kagy is a member of the Firelands Symphony Orchestra, which this year took Norwalk off of its performance schedule.

"I think it will take more collaboration," Lesch said. "I think it has been interesting to put into the same room people who are interested in the arts and hear what they have to say. I just feel the frustration of the people ... like the symphony having Norwalk on their schedule ... then they get frustrated when they don't get the response to continue."

Losing the symphony, Lesch said, was a real step backward for Norwalk.

"I think part of it is people becoming aware of these things going on in town," she said. "The local groups don't have the money to market these events. But is there a willingness to get out and go? Do you want to go out to the theater? I think people are busier than ever before in some respects. And are people willing to pay? You are going to have to dig into your wallets to pay.

"I don't have the answers. But I have a lot of questions. That is the first step."

Supporting the arts in a small town is a tough task. Ask the people at the Sandusky Theatre, who are struggling to survive.

I mentioned the push for arts to one of my colleagues, and he said the answer is simple rent a bus and head for Cleveland or Toledo.

Lesch said, like it or not, that could be the reality. "Certainly we can't compete with what Cleveland is doing," she said.

But she certainly isn't ready to give up. "I would think we should be able to have some local performances of some sort." Lesch said.

That's the reason for the task force.

"If you put the right people in the room together, you can get some good ideas." she said. "Start small and go from there."

The group will meet again at 4 p.m. Sept. 19. If you've got an idea or suggestion, contact anybody on the task force. They want to hear from you.

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