Giddens

John Sherman Cooper Community Arts Center Director Diane Giddens shows off the new sign set to be placed outside the venerable building on North Main Street.

Somewhere out there in the Great Beyond, Andrew Carnegie and Sen. John Sherman Cooper are engaged in a game of chess — and Cooper just captured Carnegie's queen.

Here in the corporeal world, Cooper's name is replacing Carnegie's on one of the truly iconic buildings in town, the queen of North Main Street — the Community Arts Center.

The Carnegie Community Arts Center is changing its name to the John Sherman Cooper Community Arts Center. The move is partly to honor one of the most prominent figures in Pulaski County's history, and also to help the non-profit community center get the funding it needs to operate.

"Through the years, in trying to get donations and funding, we've been thought of as part of the national Carnegie Foundation," said director Diane Giddens. "People hear the name 'Carnegie' and they think, 'Oh, they've got lots and lots of money, but that's not the case. We're a volunteer organization."

The name "Carnegie" was chosen to grace the facility that previously housed the downtown Somerset post office and the Pulaski County Public Library. More than a century ago, the philanthropist Carnegie was well known for providing money for the establishment of libraries around the globe, more than 2,500 in all. Somerset's library came courtesy of Carnegie's efforts, so when the library moved into a new building and left the grand old neoclassical structure empty, then plans arose in 2008 to create something new, a community arts center — and Carnegie seemed like the perfect name for it at the time. 

But Giddens — who left her position as Carnegie director for a time before returning in 2019 — had long sought a different name for the building she holds dear to her heart.

"When I got back, I wanted to change the name to honor someone more local," she said. "That's one of the things I've been working on, is to change the name."

Cooper served in the U.S. Senate — with a couple of interruptions — from 1946 to 1973. His statue stands on the Fountain Square, and he remains one of the most notable statesmen, not just in Kentucky's history but the nation's as well. Cooper was born and raised in Somerset, attended Somerset High School, and his sister-in-law, Cornelia Dozier Cooper, remains one of the area's most prolific arts patrons. 

The Senator, like Carnegie played a significant role in the building's history, however, buying the property for it and securing the tax that funds the library, noted Giddens.

"This is really his building," she said. "... We wanted to honor him, and that's why we changed (the name)."

Even better, the name represents a fresh start of sorts. The facility has experienced struggles in the past, most recently COVID-19 — the Carnegie Center has been shut down since December due to concerns about the virus. They're getting ready to open back up for February however, with new management at the Cellar eatery, new studio rentals and artists (including a costume maker, Joey Bee), a building reconfiguration, and more. The Cuisine Club is getting to stage more meals taking diners around the world — February's "trip" to to New Orleans for Mardi Gras — and the facility is also working on a new Facebook page and new website to reflect its new moniker. The new sign for the outside has been created and is ready to hang.

Conveniently, the abbreviation doesn't have to change much in the web presence — "CCAC" can mean "Cooper Community Arts Center" just as easily as "Carnegie Community Arts Center.

Giddens is excited to launch a new life for the center under the John Sherman Cooper name, only yards from where his image stands tall on the Square. 

"I've wanted this for so long," she said. "I've been working on it since I got back. Everything is approved and ready to go with our new name."

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