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Lakewood example of arts center done right

Sherwood's cultural arts advocates hope to emulate the work of their Lake Oswego counterparts
by: Anthony Roberts, The Lakewood Center for the Performing Arts is successful, but Lake Oswego had an existing building.

The communities and circumstances are much different, but if Sherwood needs an example of a successful cultural arts center, it can look to an eastern neighbor.

The Lakewood Center for the Arts in Lake Oswego is wildly successful and encompasses many of the elements Sherwood arts advocates are looking for in a building. In addition, the Lakewood Theater Company, which runs the center and is the main tenant, built it without a dime from city or state government.

Lakewood, however, was working on a much different time frame and with a number of advantages that don't exist right now in Sherwood. But the final product is something to emulate, and it has a number of facets local arts advocates are seeking in a building. Kay Vega, the theater's executive producer, said the key to its success has been diversifying the center, so that there are a number of income-producing tenants and uses along with the theater company.

"It's like a shopping center, you have an anchor tenant. That's really the owner, Lakewood Theatre Company," she said. "But we have classes and the creative arts preschool and we rent space out in the community meeting room."

Along with theater, Lakewood hosts Portland Community College Classes and Lake Oswego parks and recreation forums and classes. The creative arts preschool is the only one of its kind in Oregon, Vega said. There is also an art gallery, a small studio theater, a children's art studio, dance studio, and a resale shop.

The theater company is in its 55th year and boasts financial support from members as far south as Salem and as far north as Battleground, Wash. That goes along with strong support from the Lake Oswego, West Linn, and the entire Portland metropolitan area.

"We have a good reputation and -- knock on wood -- we've never 'gone baking' because we've never been in the red," Vega explained.

Sherwood City Council President Dave Grant told the Sherwood Urban Renewal Planning Advisory Committee (SURPAC) that the city's Cultural Arts Commission realized that a multi-use building would be paramount to success. Previously, there was talk of creating a "black box" theater that would be primarily geared toward live productions, lacking the versatility of a full arts center.

But getting to that point probably won't be as easy for Sherwood as it was for Lake Oswego. For starters, the Lakewood Theatre Company had an established history and took decades to finally build its current center (see timeline). Lakewood also had a viable building and a school board that worked with them to purchase it. They took eight years from 1979 to 1987 to raise funds privately and make their final payment to the school board.

The Sherwood Cultural Arts Commission also targeted a building, the Old School House at Sherwood Boulevard and 3rd Street, which the Sherwood Urban Renewal Commission owns. But the arts commission has determined that the deteriorating building is virtually impossible to renovate and save.

That means to operate without any money from the city, as Lakewood does, arts advocates would have to raise the money for a completely new structure, a tall order as construction prices continue to skyrocket. Even if there was a building available, fundraising opportunities are different in Lake Oswego than they are just about anywhere else in the state. The affluent community had a median family income that trumped Sherwood's by about $27,000 in the 2000 census, and its 2006 population is still more than double Sherwood's.

Despite the differences, Sherwood arts advocates are still looking to Lakewood for guidance.

"We've been talking to their executive director (Andrew Edwards)," said Robyn Folsom, the chair of the Sherwood Cultural Arts Commission. "They've been so successful Lake Oswego is looking at adding another cultural arts center."

For information on Lakewood Center for the Arts, visit www.lakewood-center.org/.