The Civic Arts Center took on a new identity on Friday, April 24. In a Topping Out and Naming ceremony on the hill overlooking the construction site on Maryville College campus, Civic Arts Center director Robert Hudgens announced that the joint venture between the college and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa will be called The Clayton Center for the Arts.
In leading up to the announcement, civic arts center director Robert Hudgens said the facility would forever be a symbol of philanthropy and said one individual had been particularly vital in the development of the facility. When a fundraising committee was formed in 2003, Hudgens said this individual stepped forward enthusiastically.
“He became a champion of the project and the face of the civic arts center,” Hudgens said.
Hudgens said the Clayton family and foundation made the largest donation and encouraged others because of what they believed the center would mean to the community. “The stars are aligned, he would say, and he had no idea how prophetic he was,” Hudgens said.
Hudgens thanked Kevin and Chelly Clayton, Jim Clayton, the Clayton Family and the Clayton Family Foundation for supporting the project. “This facility will forever be known as the Clayton Center for the Arts,” Hudgens said as the audience applauded and a banner was unfurled with the new name emblazoned on it.
Kevin Clayton stood and thanked everyone who has been part of the project. He said God was a part of the effort from the beginning because so many people refused to give up on it.
“We just kept plugging,” he said. “This is a good day. Today is about so many of you who love the arts and love this area and encouraged so many of us to stay after this project.”
Clayton praised his father, Jim Clayton, and family friend, Jim Haslam. “How blessed are we to be in a community that has two Jims trying to out-do each other to see who can give the most,” he said.
Clayton said Haslam was an encourager throughout the fundraising effort. “Jim Haslam gave countless hours, and he said it could be done,” he said.
Clayton then smiled and said he had one request for when the civic arts center is complete. “Every Saturday night, dad can have the stage to pick and sing,” he said as everyone laughed.
In the moments before the ceremony began as singers were entertained the audience, Clayton shared his excitement for the event. Stakeholders in the project had just signed the final steel beam that was being placed atop the structure.
Clayton said today was as celebration and that next May the entire community will enjoy opening day. While the center will be a place for education and entertainment, the facility will also be an economic engine that will draw people to the area who will then spend money in restaurants, stores, hotels and other businesses. “I think people are overlooking the economic impact,” he said.
There is still another $5 to $7 million left to be raised. “Kevin and Amanda Painter are leading that effort,” he said. “I encourage everyone to step up.”
When the program began, Gerald Gibson, president of Maryville College, recalled how 10 years ago he and Mark Cate spoke with Fred Forster with the Chamber and representatives from Blount County and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa about building a civic arts center. He thanked the supporters of the project. “On behalf of Maryville College, I present our heartfelt appreciation for those who have brought us to this point,” he said.
Gibson recognized the donors for everything they’ve done. “To the donors, I say a huge thanks,” he said.
Congressman Jimmy Duncan praised Gibson for his service to the college and said that while the college has a great history, the new civic arts center will help the school and community have an even better future.
Duncan encouraged everyone to help in the fundraising. “When I heard you needed $7 million, I said, ‘Let’s get to work and do something about that,” Duncan said.
Maryville City Manager Greg McClain took photographs of the singers and individuals gathered for the celebration. “I think the thing I’m struck by is how everybody here had a hand in this project going forward,” he said. “It’s fitting they’re all here, and we look with great anticipation to opening day.”
Amy Moore Morton, executive director of the Appalachian Ballet, beamed as the ceremony began. “My mind is going 100 miles a minute thinking about the ballets that are going to be put on in this gorgeous building,” she said.
Maryville City councilman Joe Swann praised the efforts of those working on the project. “I think it looks great. It’s obvious this is going to be one of the landmark projects built in Blount County,” he said.
Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said the purpose of a topping off ceremony is to celebrate the workers building the facility. Taylor shared how, in the summer of 1971, he worked on a crew that built a section of Appalachian Trail on Thunderhead Mountain in the National Park. Taylor said he didn’t have a hand in the planning, in the environmental impact study or in getting money appropriated for the project. “But I did work on the crew that built that trail. When I’m backpacking there I always refer to that part of the Thunderhead Trail as my trail,” he said.
Taylor said he shared that story to explain how the construction workers should take pride in the work they are doing in building the facility. “This civic arts center will be a significant building in the community for years to come,” he said. “I expect some day in the future you will come back and say you built this building.”