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Brainerd History Week: Franklin Arts Center keeps historic building in bloom

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Yoga teacher Sarah Gorham reaches up to lower a moving chalk board in the Lakes Area Yoga studio at the Franklin Arts Center during a tour for Brainerd History Week. The chalkboard is a remnant from the days when Franklin was the Brainerd junior high school. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video) 2 / 2

Brainerd's former junior high school was one of the spotlights for this week's history week events.

The former school building was converted into a living work of art. But it's history could have been much different.

Paul Bloom, former Community Education Director, was left with the daunting task of repurposing the Franklin Junior High School building at 1001 Kingwood St.

As the Brainerd School District started to outgrow its buildings, the state of Minnesota would no longer fund additions or remodels to aging school structures. A new school was proposed.

"My last ditch option was to demolish the building and that would have cost $850,000," Bloom said.

While conducting some research Bloom contacted ArtSpace, a nonprofit company out of the Twin Cities that has been converting such buildings into live/work spaces for artists since 1979. ArtSpace remodels a portion of their buildings into apartments specifically designed for low-income artists and their families as a workspace as well as a living area. ArtSpace purchased the property and completed renovations in 2008 and Franklin Arts Center was open for business.

Stipulations were put in place by the state which mandated that the exterior and hallways of the space remained untouched to preserve a portion of the buildings' original purpose. As people walk the hallways lockers, signs, and former student artwork still echo memories of the past.

Residential space was created in a separate portion of the building that provides 25 open-concept apartments of which access is only available to tenants. Commercial space consists of several varying sized rooms or rental spots, which range in price to suit different artists' needs.

One of those spaces is home to the Crossing Arts Alliance a nonprofit organization with roughly 400 (mostly local) members whose mission statement is "to promote and enhance arts opportunities in the central lakes area."

"We do a project called Second Saturday and that is an art program for kids," said Sherry Novak Rafferty, project coordinator. "Along with the kids classes we also do a featured artist."

Rafferty discussed how the featured artist sets up artwork in their gallery to showcase that Saturday. Artists remain in-house with their work so customers and budding artists can visit with them while viewing the gallery. Crossing Arts Alliance also gives back to the community with programs like The Empty Bowls Project that helps feed the hungry and The Jail Art Project, which provides art opportunities for the locally incarcerated.

Bloom is also a showcased artist renting a space in the pottery area of the building with several other potters.

Art is loosely defined and all inclusive in the Franklin Arts Center showcasing numerous mediums such as painting, pottery, sewing, photography, theatrical art, musical art, and a cast of others. This creates a well-rounded establishment that enhances the art community.

There are still two gymnasiums, a football field, and a theatre on-site that are leased and maintained by the Brainerd School District. They continue to serve many purposes including athletic practices and community events.

Property Manager Julie Vreeland stays busy as different commercial spaces throughout the center are vacated and rented by different artists coming and going. The residential 25 live/work apartments are currently filled.

Standard business hours for the Franklin Arts Center are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, each individual commercial space and artist can create their own hours. Some are also available by appointment.

Tamara Horton may be reached at 218-855-5882 or tamara.horton@brainerddispatch.com.