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New Kaiserslautern arts center bucks trend amid budget cuts

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The volunteer fabric cutters at the Kaiserslautern Arts and Cultural Center didn’t see a lull in customers until about 90 minutes into the facility’s grand opening.

“We were swamped,” said Kelly Benning, as salsa music played in a nearby room, where scores of acrylic, oil and charcoal paintings and drawings by local artists were displayed.

The festivities Friday marked the reopening of the center, which closed in December in Heidelberg in advance of the U.S. military’s departure from that community.

The director, Edward Codina, hopes the initial swell of customers indicates the community will embrace the center much as Heidelberg did.

At stake is the center’s survival in the military’s current no-frills fiscal environment: As base commanders look for places to cut to address shrinking budgets, arts and crafts centers that don’t generate enough revenue to pay for themselves are shuttering.

In the last year, at least two Army arts and crafts centers have closed. Earlier this month, Fort Drum, N.Y., officials announced the post was converting its arts and crafts center into an indoor fitness annex due to “limited patron use.” And last April, facing a funding reduction of 27 percent, the Army closed the Fort Shafter Arts and Crafts Center on Hawaii, according to an Army news release.

In announcing the Kaiserslautern center’s March grand opening, U.S. Army Garrison-Kaiserslautern officials vowed to deliver the same level of arts programming offered in Heidelberg, while acknowledging these are tough times for military arts and crafts centers.

The program is starting small.

In Heidelberg, the center offered a full calendar of monthly classes and programs in addition to a large inventory of arts and crafts supplies. At the new center, there are no classes scheduled yet.

“The plan is to grow the program,” Codina said. His small staff is devoted to standing up the retail store and frame shop, both of which are located inside the Kaiserslautern Community Activities Center on Daenner Kaserne on the eastern side of town. Besides custom framing, the center’s services include photo printing and machine quilting. A kiln for ceramics has yet to be set up.

“If we sell the services that we have,” staff funding hopefully will expand in turn, Codina said, noting he’s also looking for volunteer instructors.

In Heidelberg, Codina operated with a big staff of mostly part-time employees who instructed classes and manned the store.

“People clamored for our classes,” he said. Those included parent-and-toddler painting, introduction to quilting and sewing, Brazilian jujitsu, drawing for kids, mosaic mirror making, framing, ceramics and a cultural club that toured local museums, theaters and festivals.

The retail store is about half the size of the Heidelberg facility, but the inventory is the same, Codina said, just less of it is on the shelves.

The biggest draw is the store’s wide selection of fabrics, “the best fabric store in all MWR Europe,” Codina said. The store also carries a smaller selection of fine arts products, and supplies for sewing and scrapbooking, among other items.

“I don’t doubt the store is going to perform. We’re going from 25,000 to 60,000-plus, buying population,” he said of the larger Kaiserslautern military community.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

 

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