Carnegie Center ready for a bright future under it's new-but-familiar director

Christopher Harris I CJ

The Carnegie Community Arts Center is changing outside -- with new signs -- and inside, with additional programs, available loft space for artists, and more.

The Carnegie Community Arts Center has had a lot of lives.

It's now beginning a new one -- one that the people behind it are hoping will represent a new age of artistic prosperity.

"I love the Carnegie," said Diane Giddens, the current director of the facility -- and the former and founding one, from back when the Pulaski County Library moved into a new building and its old home was repurposed into a multi-functional arts hub.

That was in 2008, and Giddens helped guide the Carnegie through its developmental stages, but left in 2014 to deal with health concerns. She's back now and has big plans for the facility, including one that will also help other local businesses.

"The Carnegie is starting a new program called 'Carnegie Cares,' which will help promote local Mom and Pop businesses," said Giddens. "We are going to do this once a month to help our community showcase their businesses."

Giddens noted to the Commonwealth Journal that she'd put every bit of her strength into helping the Carnegie become what it could and should be in the community.

"The Carnegie has never once left my thoughts," she said in March before officially coming back on board.

The period that followed her departure was one of flux. The Carnegie even spent a considerable amount of time without a director, the role Giddens had previously inhabited, before then-City of Somerset Community Development Director John Alexander stepped into the position in June of 2017. Alexander's task was to enlist the help of the city in getting some of the work done around the building that had been difficult for board members to do on their own.

But Alexander did not stay in the role long, and in January of 2018, Kyle Kadel, who operates the International Paranormal Museum and Research Center there in the Carnegie, took over the director's role. When Kadel -- who has continued to keep the space in the Carnegie -- left the position, it was again in need of a director, and Giddens, having made significant strides in her health condition, opted to come back.

The Carnegie was not in great shape, however. The Pulaski County Public Library still owns the property, and librarian Charlotte Keeney confirmed some of the Carnegie's operational struggles.

"They weren't having a lot of money coming in and were having financial issues," said Keeney. That included not being able to pay bills -- basic ones, like electricity or Internet. Plus, insurance on the Carnegie Center lapsed, and other operational problems plagued the non-profit arts center, to the point of there being real concerns about the Carnegie's doors closing.

"The library doesn't have anything to do with it other than own the building," said Keeney. "We didn't want to see anything happen to it. The library board wants the building to continue as an arts center."

Keeney said the Carnegie's board decided to bring Giddens back as director, which happened at a meeting in April, and Giddens has been on-site helping the Carnegie get back on its feet for the past month.

"Diane thought she could bring it back as it was," said Keeney. "... She always loved the Carnegie."

Keeney said that Giddens "decided she wanted to wait just a little bit to appoint a new board," and that while the previous board wasn't necessarily dissolved, Giddens "just told them that she was going to do another board."

"The library board said that they didn't have a problem with Diane taking over and going in whatever direction she felt it needed," said Keeney.

Kathy Ragle, a resident writer and publisher at the Carnegie, was a board member at the time, and said the old board went down from 11 members to eight, and lost acting director Rhonda Wilford, "and we left." She said the board was not officially dissolved, but that Keeney had called and informed them of the previous board no longer being as it was.

Giddens has been working on putting another board back together with five on board -- previous members Doug Miller and Mark Purcell, as well as herself, Teri Woodward, and Dennis Clayton.

"We're trying to schedule a meeting now," she said Friday. "We've got enough (members) for the board to meet."

She's also looking for an accountant and an attorney, and has one other member in mind, which would likely bring the board count up to eight.

Getting things back on track hasn't been smooth at all times. Tasks like taking care of the financials and putting new security in place have been priorities, and a brief social media kerfuffle erupted in May when it was announced that murals with mildly spooky imagery accompanying the Paranormal Museum would be painted over to accommodate the sensibilities of various parties who might use the facility. Reaction on Facebook was swift and negative, and it was quickly reversed once a feel for the opinion of the local artistic community was gained.

With all of that now in the rearview mirror, Giddens is looking at spearheading more events and features designed to draw people to the venerable building at the heart of Somerset on North Main Street.

There's "Carnegie Cares" -- Giddens expects that the first accompanying event in July will be a sort of fashion show -- and the loft space on the third floor will be opened up for artists who want to rent by the day or week or month.

Giddens said it's getting an "overwhelming response," and added that she was "so glad to see our community pull together."

The Loft should be ready for occupancy on or before July 1. Call 606-677-0333 for more details.

Giddens added that they've gotten to go-ahead from the health department to open the Cellar dining space downstairs, and will be serving bratwurst and its trimmings as a regular weekday offering. She also likes the idea of bringing back the coffee station downstairs with snacks, baked goods, different coffees, teas and cold drinks.

Two free arts-related classes are also new initiatives and "open for people to take advantage of," said Giddens. One is "Zentangle," taught by Katia Parrett,

"(Zentangle) is a drawing art form that uses watercolor paper and black ink to produce fabulous abstract drawings," said Giddens. "Anybody can do it. You don't need any sort of artistic abilities."

Zentangle will be taught every Thursday from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. on the main floor. Those interested (from 12 years old up through adults) are invited to attend these classes free of charge. Call Parrett at 606-425-5658 to register.

Longtime Carnegie resident CeCe Butcher is now teaching a free drawing class for youth as well. The classes on Wednesday, June 5, will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for ages 7-11, and classes for ages 11 and up will be held from 1 p.m.- 2 p.m. Call Butcher at 606-678-4580 for details.

Plus, Carnegie residents like Dianna Mitchell of Clay Hill Art Studio, Ragle (who does "Art of the Spoken Word" for poets, authors and songwriters on the first and third Thursdays of the month with Purcell), musicians Joe LaMay and Sherri Reese (who are involved with the 3rd Friday Folk Coffee House, Carnecopia, and other musical events), and the Paranormal Museum continue to maintain a presence in the facility, keeping some consistency in a time of change.

A talent showcase night and other musical and performing arts events are also going to be a part of the Carnegie's upcoming future, according to the director.

Giddens added that the facility has new signage, with a return to the original Carnegie colors of gold, black and white.

"In case anybody asks why the signs are down," said Giddens, who said the outside Paranormal Museum sign will also be returning soon. "Some blew down and some we're just changing to get more stable signs."

Giddens said she has been entrusted with the goal of bringing the Carnegie back to a place of prominence in the next year, and that's what Keeney is optimistic for as well.

"I think they will be (in a good place)," said Keeney. "We're hoping that within a year, there will be a big turnaround in that building, and we'll start having more events and art exhibits, arts classes."

That fits right in with Giddens' own dreams, and her respect for a building that has such a historic presence in downtown Somerset, serving the community for decades upon decades as the post office, library, and now the Carnegie Community Arts Center.

"The Carnegie is the grand dame of Somerset, and to me, she is the most beautiful, historic building in Somerset," she said. "One of our main goals is to preserve the beauty of this building and to have events that enhance what the building really is."

Added Giddens, "The Carnegie means everything to me."