Arts center’s mission only growing

In 1991, a group of artists and community leaders came together to organize a regional arts center.

That group eventually wound up at the Ripley Home at 2001 N. Ewing St., which would become the home of the newly created Southern Indiana Center for the Arts later that year.

The home, built in 1851, was and still is owned by recording artist John Mellencamp, who had leased the mansion to the community as the site for a cultural center for the arts.

Mellencamp and his father, Richard Mellencamp, were the catalyst behind the idea of forming the arts center. It helped that John’s mother, Marilyn, was a painter and that the future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had taken up painting.

The local group consisting of Mary Lou Siefker, Jeri and David Correll, Janet Nolting and Dianne Cartmel went to work refurbishing the house into a museum and put the first director, Laurel Mahaney, in place.

The original intent was to offer a variety of art classes to children and adults of all levels and skills and provide gallery space for local and regional artists.

That mission has changed little in the 26 years since the center opened. In fact, that mission only grew with the addition of the Don Hill Pottery Barn in 1999 and the John H. and Thomas W. Conner Museum of Antique Printing in 2004.

Mellencamp’s intent, however, was for the arts center not to become a “Mellencamp thing.” He agreed to furnish the house and property with the philosophy that if the region wants an art center, then the community will support it.

Over the years, the center has survived through corporate donations, fundraisers and user fees. It has not been too much of a struggle to pay for operating expenses that way.

The nearly 166-year-old Ripley House, however, is really showing its age and is in need of some repair, and that’s where the arts center board comes up short.

To that end, local residents will have another chance to support the center, which has been struggling financially, on Nov. 4 during the Save Our SICA fundraiser at The Pines Evergreen Room.

Over the years, the center has provided art education and enjoyment to many children and adults and drawn the attention of the state and surrounding states to the area of Jackson County as an art-conscious region.

There’s nothing wrong with that mission and trying to extend it so children and adults can enjoy it well into the future.