Fountains add new component, audience to Clayton Center for the Arts

The Clayton Center for the Arts was planned as a place where young and old could come enjoy a variety of art and culture.

On June 21, the first day of summer, about 25 soaking wet children were enjoying a new feature introduced as the afternoon sun pushed the temperatures to the mid-90s - the Fountains at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

The fountains are situated in the Art Plaza between the two buildings that make up the facility. The in-ground fountains spray up through grates, reach various heights and appeared to be synchronized.

Kevin Clayton was on hand with his wife, Chelly, and their daughter, Ella. Ella was the afternoon’s “master of ceremony” as she stood in the middle of the spiral-patterned sprayers and led the countdown to turn the fountains on.

Within minutes children were flocking to get in the jets of water shooting up into the air.

Ella seemed pleased to play her role. “I’ve never helped out before,” the 7-year-old Fort Craig School student said. “But I’ve been in fountains before at Universal Studios.”

Chelly Clayton was excited about the fountains and what it would mean to families. “I think it’s fabulous, and they will be able to integrate it into the camps and activities they have,” she said. “It’s a lovely thing.”

Kevin Clayton smiled as he watched his daughter and the other youngsters having a blast while getting relief from the afternoon heat. The fountains are just another way the center is making an impact in the community, he said. “It’s fun, very fun. It’s exciting to see how this is touching every age group.”

Kevin Clayton said he was impressed by how many seniors have also been taking advantage of the facility to enjoy different programs and shows. “I’m blown away by how many seniors are coming here for events,” he said.

The Clayton Homes CEO, his father Jim Clayton and the Clayton Family Foundation were major contributors. “The original idea was for it to tie in with the Greenbelt,” said Clayton. “People could grab dinner and come here and hangout on the lawn while their kids play,” he said.

Outgoing Maryville College president Gerald Gibson echoed Kevin Clayton’s thoughts and said the fountain is another way of pulling folks into the center. “This was Kevin’s idea to have the fountains as a feature of the Arts Plaza at the Clayton Center for the Arts,” Gibson said.

The president said the Clayton Center for the Arts is a partnership project between the college and the community. “We want the whole community to indentify with it as much as the college does,” he said. “This will help with that, particularly with the young folks.”

Mary Beth Bonneville with Foothills Community Players was on hand for a dress rehearsal of their upcoming production of “The Music Man,” opening on July 2. Her 6-year-old daughter Eliza Kate, a Sam Houston School student, sprinted to the fountains as soon as they were turned on. “I love it. I used to take them to Knoxville but that’s too far away,” she said. “I like having everything in my own town.”

Melissa McLaughin of Georgia watched as her 6-year-old son Charlie played in the water. McLaughin is a Maryville-native who graduated from the college in 1993. Her father, Dr. John Nichols, teaches at the school, and McLaughin said she has been impressed with the Clayton Center for the Arts and the new fountain feature.

“It’s awesome. It’s great to come back and see this and see people you know. I love it,” she said.

Tim Purvis is a member of the Foothills Community Players and a father of young children. He said the center is becoming more of a community gathering place. “The fountains provide a place for kids to come and goof off,” he said.

Mary Beth West and her husband, Charles, said the fountain creates another draw to the center. “It’s one more aspect to the center that people can enjoy,” he said. “My kids are really enjoying it.”

Joe Swann, Maryville city council member, watched with his wife, Becky, as the children laughed in the fountain. “As these kids grow up, this will become a part of their childhood,” he said. “The college is a part of life here. It will have a bigger impact as we go along.”

Holly Jackson-Ludlow, vice president of advancement and community relations, had the idea for kicking off the fountains on the first day of summer. “We’re hoping to make this an annual event,” she said. “We want this to be a gathering place for the community to come hangout.”

Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, agreed. “This is a place for life-long experiences with art and the community,” Hutchens said.

Professor Dan Klingensmith, PhD, said the fountain is good for the college. “As a person who lives here in Maryville, I’m happy we have this whole facility but also the fountains,” he said. “I hope we can do this all summer long.”

The fountains will operate on Mondays through Fridays from noon to 6 p.m., Hutchens said.

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