Arts campaign at halfway mark; Council approves grant for Gura Building

By Lisa Capobianco

Staff Writer

With the Southington Community Cultural Arts (SCCA) halfway into its 18-month capital campaign to turn the old Gura Building into an arts center, the Town Council voted in approval of a DECD Grant worth $500,000 Monday night.

During its meeting, the Southington Town Council voted 8 to 1 to accept a grant awarded to the town to help with renovation costs for the Gura Building, which formerly housed several town offices and became abandoned when the Municipal Center opened. The town allowed SCCA to start an 18-month fundraising period to make 80 percent of the renovation costs, leaving the SCCA with a goal to raise about $1.4 million.

Town Councilor Stephanie Urillo did not vote in favor of the grant.

Local artist Mary DeCroce, who serves at the forefront of the project, presented before the Town Council an overview of the project and the current fundraising work SCCA has completed to turn the Gura Building into an arts center.

As of November 18, DeCroce said SCCA has raised a large sum of money from a combination of donations, grants and funds. Besides receiving a $500,000 grant from the State Bond Commission, SCCA has raised $17,000 through a sponsorship from the bike parade as well as $25,000 committed from the Calvanese Foundation and $10,000 in pledges from the DePaolo Family Foundation. SCCA also received a $25,000 donation from the Italian American Festival this past summer as well as other donations and more donor pledges worth $15,000.

“We are getting there,” DeCroce said. “We are nine months into the 18-month capital campaign, and I am amazed at how far we have come.”

DeCroce also noted the current raffle at various Pilgrim Furniture City stores throughout Connecticut, with the goal of selling 1,000 tickets for $100 each. Winners have the chance to win $25,000 worth of furniture. SCCA will hold a gala on February 9 at Pilgrim City to choose the winning ticket. Currently, SCCA has sold 150 tickets.

“It is really interesting how the whole energy of this project just keeps growing and growing,” said DeCroce, who also leads Harvest the Arts during the Apple Harvest Festival.

Besides holding art classes and exhibiting artwork, the new arts center will include rental art studios and an art supply store. The center will also feature a pottery studio as well as a gallery. DeCroce said funds for sustainability of the building would stem not only from the store, but also from monthly leases and rents for small performances in the gallery as well studio rentals.

“You cannot just rely on classes and exhibits to keep this going,” DeCroce said. “Art centers operate with lease, with rental, and also with state grants—you have to bring something in from everywhere.”

Although several members of the Council expressed concern over sustainability of the proposed arts center, DeCroce assured them that SCCA will achieve sustainability after the 18 months are up. She also emphasized that SCCA will continue to apply for grants and funds.

“We have had interest in renting the potter room, renting studio space, and Jerry’s Artarama already wants to be our satellite store for art supplies,” DeCroce said.

DeCroce also said the current activities she is involved in also enhance sustainability. Now recognized statewide, DeCroce has received phone calls from other towns for art work, including the Meriden YMCA. WFSB has also took notice of SCCA’s project, and will feature DeCroce on Better Connecticut.

She has also partnered with several local artists to decorate ten windows of vacant buildings on Center Street with winter wonderland themes, with the hope of drawing more visitors and businesses to Southington.

“I am always inviting young artists in,” DeCroce said. “I am a firm believer that when you have youth involved, that is what gives the energy and keeps it going.”

Town Councilors Dawn Miceli, Victoria Triano, Tom Lombardi, Chris Palmieri and Paul Champagne formally congratulated DeCroce on her efforts to transform the Gura building into an arts hub, recognizing her passion, talent and skills.

“The 18-month deadline does not mean anything to me when I see how much money they have raised to try and advance this project,” said Minority Leader Chris Palmieri.

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