Vacant buildings can spark creativity. That’s exactly what happened in Southington after town offices moved to a new municipal center and the Town Hall annex on Main Street, known as the Gura Building, was left vacant. Community members, led by Mary DeCroce, formed Southington Community Cultural Arts (SoCCA), a non-profit arts organization that saw a creative new use for the vacant space. Originally built in the 1930’s, the Gura Building faced demolition in the past decade. Internal damage, old windows, and naysayers did not stop SoCCA from reimagining and eventually reinventing the historic structure. The building has housed town offices, once operated as the police station, and will see a new life as a community arts center.
I recently visited the historic building for a tour of what will be an arts center for the people of Southington and beyond. As a native of Southington, CT, I was excited to head back to my hometown and find out about this new undertaking by Mary and her team. The board of SoCCA has been working on this project for years. Renovations began in November of 2014, but the quest to secure the building as a home for arts and culture began in 2012. As we enter through the back of the building, into a lobby that is technically still outside, it was as if Mary saw artists in residence and art classes already in progress. Her enthusiasm for the space is infectious. New windows are in, walls were nearly ready to go up, and a brand new elevator was installed to provide accessibility to all three floors.
The first floor will house a performance area, gallery space, a caterer’s kitchen and a retail shop selling work by local artisans. As we climb up the temporary staircase in the front entry you can imagine what a fantastic space it will be to walk into right off Main Street. On the second floor, Mary pointed out a large workshop space, which will be used for the art center’s UArts program; a program that provides vocational and artisan training to adults with special needs. Jewelry, textiles, ceramics, paintings and drawings will be among the products created by UArts artists and sold in the center’s retail shop. This is an opportunity to generate both pride and income for the UArts artists. Additional studios on the second floor will be available for artists to rent. One of my favorite elements to the art center is the basement. The exposed foundation currently adds a wonderful touch to the space the organization intends to use as a pottery studio, complete with classes.
After seeing the skeleton of this space and talking to Mary, who is full of passion and perseverance when it comes to this work, I cannot wait to see what the finished product will look like. You can follow SoCCA on Facebook or on their website.