“Without a vision, people perish.”
When George Williams walks through the doors at the gala opening of the Clayton Center for the Arts on Saturday, March 27, the above scripture will be on his heart.
“This would not have happened without the visionary people,” said Williams. “They led early and some of the rest of us just came along.”
For a small group of local folks, Saturday night is a dream realized, one that has been ten years in the making. It was that long ago when a group first started seriously talking about raising money for and building a civic arts center.
As the community prepares to celebrate the grand opening of the center this weekend, Blount Today went back to some of the visionaries who stepped out and then stepped up to make this center a reality and asked them for their thoughts as they prepare to step into the Clayton Center for the Arts.
Gerald Gibson Maryville College president
Maryville College president Gerald Gibson credited someone in his 1993-94 Leadership Blount class for planting the seed in his mind for building what became the Clayton Center for the Arts.
“At the very end of our class, we had a luncheon,” Gibson said. “We were just bouncing around ideas, and somebody in that group said what we need is a facility that is a partnership facility between the college and the community. That planted the seed, and when we actually did a strategic plan in 1999, that is what popped into my mind. We began conversations that ultimately led to partnerships to build this facility.”
Gibson said that Saturday night the realization will hit him that something that has been a long time coming is finally here. “The dream has become a reality,” he said. “It has been 10 years that we’ve been talking about and working on this project. That what I always instantly think about when I walk into the building - it is finally a reality.”
Mark Cate Campaign manager, Bill Haslam
In late 1999 and early 2000, former Maryville College vice president Mark Cate was one of the first people to start the conversation about building a civic arts center for Blount County.
He worked with president Gerald Gibson to build support and teamed with Kevin Clayton to raise private funds for the $47 million facility. It was built with support from Maryville College, federal and state government, private donors, and appropriations for the cities of Alcoa and Maryville.
Cate said being part of the initial vision was exciting 10 years ago. “If 10 years ago we thought this would have taken 10 years, would we still have done it? I hope the answer would be yes,” he said. “You go into something knowing it is absolutely the right thing to do but how you are going to get to the end of it, you have no clue. Clearly there were obstacles along the way. As a college and community, we dealt with the obstacles as they came our way.”
When Cate enters the center Saturday night, it will be his first time in the center since December.
“Words can’t express how incredibly gratifying this is. Being able to go in Saturday night and see this incredible facility will be one of the most gratifying moments I’ve ever had.”
Bill Robinson Director of Orchestra Maryville College
Bill Robinson, director of the Orchestra at Maryville College and director of the music program at Maryville High School, is thankful to donors who helped make the Clayton Center a reality. “Money is always a big issue, and when we got into this, we didn’t know we would be hit with the economy we’re in now. We appreciate those who have followed through on donations to make this possible,” he said.
Robinson said he is enthusiastic about the possibilities for the new facility that was years in the making. “I’m very excited it has finally happened. Many people for years have known we needed a nice performance venue in Maryville. It will benefit students and adults in our community, he said. “It will be a nice place to bring in outside performers, and it will it will showcase our community as far as the arts are concerned.”
Fred Forster CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership
Fred Forster, CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership said there are barriers to any kind of project a community undertakes. “It has had its challenges and each time there have been groups of people who have pulled together to overcome challenges and address issues so we could keep this project on a positive track, and here we are,” he said.
Forster said the Clayton Center for the Arts will pay big dividends down the road in terms of quality of life for Blount County. “It is a wonderful thing that we now have this facility available for our community,” he said. “It is a testimony to the positive vision people of this community have and the desire to continue to improve the way of life for our community.”
Carolyn Forster Co-chair of Citizens for a Civic Arts Center
Carolyn Forster, co-chair of the grassroots group Citizens for a Civic Arts Center, said Saturday is going to be exciting for everyone in the community. “It has been on so many people’s hearts and minds for so long. We’ve talked about it in this community and dreamed about it and worked hard for it and now it is here,” she said. “It is not just for our community. This is something that is going to benefit our whole region. People are going to enjoy coming to Maryville. I’m just so excited about this weekend. It’s going to be wonderful.”
Joy Bishop Co-chair of Citizens for a Civic Arts Center
Joy Bishop, co-chair of Citizens for a Civic Arts Center, said she and Carolyn Forster started Citizens for the Civic Arts Center in 2000. “Our job was to get a grassroots movement going and see if this was something that people wanted. That is when I became really involved,” Bishop said. “We had meetings all over the county and in Alcoa and Maryville and gave people updates and showed them drawings and got enthusiasm and support.”
Saturday will indeed be a dream realized, said Bishop. “We’ve worked so hard. We are just thankful that Maryville, the college and Alcoa had the courage to go ahead and believe in the dream. It is so beautiful, and it will be such an enhancement to our quality of life here and to the surrounding community in East Tennessee,” she said. “The generosity that people have shown has been wonderful. They’ve been willing to put their treasure into this dream.”
Steve West Former mayor, Maryville
Steve West, former mayor of the City of Maryville, said children throughout Blount County will now have the opportunity to see and hear things they may not have had the chance to experience unless they traveled to a bigger city. “
“Hopefully they’ll have the opportunity to open their eyes to a variety of entertainment and art,” he said. “This will expose them to things that will broaden them. There are a lot of reports that say kids involved in music and art make better grades in math and science and are more successful,” he said. “They don’t have to be able sing and play an instrument but if they appreciate those things and are exposed to them, it makes them more successful academically.”
West said that in 1965 he met with people from the city and the school systems and the Chamber because folks were interested in some kind of center for the arts for children and people of Blount County. “That has been 45 years,” he said. “It has taken that long for it to become a reality.”
Amy Moore Morton Artistic director Appalachian Ballet Co.
Amy Moore Morton, artistic director of Appalachian Ballet Co., said people are going to be impressed Saturday night during the gala.
“It is hard to believe it is here, and it is going to happen this week. I’m so excited. I think it’s going to blow people away we have this in Maryville. It is unbelievable,” said Morton.
Morton said the dancers and supporters of the Appalachian Ballet Co., are honored to be the resident dance company for the Clayton Center for the Arts. “After our 40 year history in the community, we finally have a beautiful home,” she said.
Joe Swann Councilman, former mayor, Maryville
“I think that for a community to be exceptional, they have to think about doing exceptional things,” Maryville councilman and former mayor Joe Swann said.
Swann said one thing that has made Maryville successful in finding business and industry to locate here has been having quality of life amenities that people won’t find in other places. “Certainly a great school system is one of those amenities, as is a great college. Enhancing that asset by investing in something that will help the community and the college was a great idea,” he said.
The city councilman said the cities of Alcoa and Maryville, the State of Tennessee, the federal government all pitched in to help that to happen. “It was a big idea that came to reality by people thinking bigger than they usually do,” he said.
Tom Taylor Mayor, Maryville
“My initial reaction is that a few years ago, I would have never dreamed this community would have built this kind of facility,” Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said. “When you go back stage and see complexity of the entire building and see the thought that has gone into making every detail of it state of the art, it is really pretty amazing.”
Taylor said he will be thinking about the former professors and students from the fine arts at Maryville College when he walks through the front doors for the event. “Going in Saturday night to that gala will really bring back the spirits of a lot of people you wish could be there -- great faculty members who really put performing arts at Maryville College on the map,” he said.
Gary Hensley Former city manager, Maryville
Gary Hensley, former city manager for the City of Maryville, praised Kevin Clayton and Maryville College for not letting the dream die. “The yeoman’s work of Kevin Clayton and Maryville College folks in raising private funds made the difference when funding for Blount County did not become an reality, said Henley.
Hensley said he toured the facility recently. “It was very rewarding after seeing all the plans on paper to come and see the reality of it. It was fantastic. I think it will be a cultural center for our area for many years to come,” he said.
Kevin Clayton Private donor campaign chair
Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes, said the civic arts center project fell apart numerous times, and he credited private donors like Harold and Jean Lambert for helping keep momentum going. “There was a point when the project was going to stop and be completely dead if we didn’t have $300,000 to keep the architects and engineers engaged,” Clayton said. “Harold Lambert didn’t even hesitate. He said, ‘We’ve got to make this happen,’ and he wrote a check on the spot. There was no chance we were going to the get the federal or state dollars without that help. Little things like that along way came together.”
Clayton said many didn’t believe a $47 million world-class performing arts center could be built in Blount County. “We worked hard and made several trips and a lot of people invested, and the government portion came through. Then it was up to the college and private donors to come up with $25 million.”
The fundraising is still continuing, said Clayton, as the project is $6 million short of budget. “We have page after page of people who have contributed, and we need several more pages,” he said. “There are still key items that need to be purchased. That’s why we still have some work to do. I think it will still take a couple more months. It is a hard time to raise money now but there are so many opportunities now.”
Clayton is quick to deflect praise for helping raise money. “I deserve very little credit. Several people had a dream and vision 10 years ago, and I got involved 5 years ago,” he said. “I’m extremely excited. We are so fortunate to live in a community where so many people kept believing and pushing and wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”
Mark Johnson City manager, Alcoa
Alcoa city manager Mark Johnson said the project turned out better than many envisioned it. As for Saturday night, he is looking forward to just listening.
“I’ll wait for final judgment when I hear the acoustics,” he said, “But from what I hear, it is exceptional. Considerable effort has been put into making it one of the most outstanding venues in the Southeast,” he said.