Presser Arts Center re-opens to the public

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MEXICO - Bonnie and Larry Kimbel used to live down the street from the Presser Arts Center, a regional performing and visual arts center. 

The couple has performed on stage, as have their children and grandson. Bonnie said a building like this is important for the community. 

“The arts are what ties the community together, whether it’s music or acting, but this building can also be used for many other things,” Bonnie said. 

The Presser Arts Center though, which services 22,000 people per year, was unable to meet the needs in the community, and the facility was lacking space. Executive Director Lois Brace said the center had so little space, it was hosting classes on the stage.  

However, in 2013, the center began discussing updates and planning a capital campaign. In the four years since, members of the 20 counties served by the center have come together and raised $4 million for renovations and additions to the building, still in place from 1926. 

“It’s amazing how many volunteers came to help us,” Board Member Liz Washer said. 

Construction, which began in July 2016 is finally complete. The grand opening event Friday evening was all about thanking the more than 200 donors and celebrating the years of arts to come.

“Just because we’re midwestern, small town, we still love the arts," Washer said. "It doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything about it. We just want to give everyone the opportunity to participate." 

She said these artistic opportunities often help people discover different aspects of themselves. 

“I can think of just a number of different people who didn’t even know they had that art form in their body,” Washer said.

Among these opportunities to participate are classes and lessons for students. Washer said programs are designed to supplement the lessons students learn in the classroom. She said families often travel from all over the state to participate in the Presser Arts Center’s activities. 

Members said these programs are available to all. 

“It’s not limited to just the wealthy, there are scholarships available,” Bonnie Kimbel said. “We have three schools here, and the children can participate from all schools and build life-long friendships.”

Washer said the renovations allow for the addition of a number of programs inspired by Brace. 

The center will now offer programs focusing on movement, music and theater for the elderly. 

“Our goal with that is that we can help senior citizens stay in their homes longer, as long as possible, before needing to go somewhere for assistance like memory care,” Brace said. 

Included in the renovations are a 200 seat black box theater, a classroom and a green room or break room for the actors. 

“We were disadvantaged before we had this,” Treasurer Don Decker said.  

Washer said she’s happy to see the community coming together for a project like this.  

“Icing,” she said. “Icing on the cake. We have a wonderful town here and this just adds to it. I mean, this community comes together to do almost any kind of project. Someone has an idea and people say ‘Oh yeah I think we can do that. I’d like to help, how can I volunteer?’”

“People have just jumped in,” Washer said. 

Brace said further programs are expected to come in January.