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Winder Cultural Arts Center thrives 7 years after its start

POSTED: June 23, 2014 8:50 a.m.
Zac Taylor/Barrow County News

Bramlett teacher Rosalin O'Rear sits with students in her summer art camp on the first floor.

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When Don Wildsmith became the city of Winder’s first Cultural Arts Director seven years ago to manage the city’s new theatre, he didn’t really know if either he, or the theatre, would still be moving forward even a few years down the road.

Seven years in, Wildsmith and his cultural arts center have done more than just survived an economic downturn, they’ve thrived.

The director, a former carpenter and retired Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, can point out the physical differences in the building that was once a textile facility: A theatre where sewing machines used to be, a treasure trove of props that even Athens theatre companies borrow in an area that was gutted and rebuilt.

It’s more than just the physical successes though, Wildsmith can point to how popular the center has become, from the shows put on by the Winder-Barrow Community Theatre to the banquet space used for family reunions and business events.

"A lot of things have changed," he said.

In other words, Barrow has been changed due to the presence of the center these past seven years. Wildsmith can point to the successful drama program at Apalachee High, which has been spurred on and now has its own theatre in part to the work of teacher Susan Pierce and in part to all that students have learned at the Cultural Arts Center, helping to work on or perform in plays over the years.

"I do this because I think it’s very important to the city of Winder," he said, while acknowledging that it was the work of many people, not just him, that allowed this success. "I want to see this place here in another seven years."

He doesn’t just want to see the center maintaining what has already been done either, but expanding on it. He said he’d like to open up more of the first floor to be able to have a children’s choir, and possibly even bring in professional theatre troupes from other cities more often.

"My plan is to expand the opportunity (for residents) of things they can see and do," he said.

He stays busy, but Wildsmith still didn’t mind taking some time out of his schedule (he’s the sole staff member of the Cultural Arts Center excluding the TV station) to reflect back on how it all started.

The new Cultural Arts Center opened April 7, 2007, filling a void in the city at the time. It had been many years, Wildsmith said, since a theatre, like the old Critic’s Choice Theatre, had last been in town.

Wildsmith gives much of the credit for the center to former Mayor Buddy Outz and the council members at that time, who paid to have the old textile building gutted and remodeled to allow for the construction of the theatre.

The soon-to-be director was involved in that process of remodeling the second story of the building, and he remembered the pigeons, squirrels and large rats he helped get out.

It was a big step for the city.

"This is a leap-of-faith for a city this size to do this," he said. "The city has always helped."

The city’s investment paid off. Over the years Wildsmith and his many supporters created more usable space on the first floor as well and have turned the space into something many likely couldn’t have expected.

"This is a fully functioning theatre," he said.

It’s not just for plays the WBCT puts on either. The center hosts films, concerts, non-profit foundation events and, Wildmsith’s favorite, the Fine Arts Festival which puts on display performances and artwork from the school system’s students.

Yet, despite all the center now does, the fact that it exists at all is still a surprise to some people, Wildsmith said. Changing those people’s minds about the center when they finally do come for a show is one of his favorite experiences.

"I enjoy the fact that everybody is surprised," he said. "I relish the opportunity to surprise more people."



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