The Carnegie Visual Arts Center (CVAC), located in downtown Decatur, Morgan County, exhibits works from local, regional, national, and international artists. Housed in a historic building and the area’s first art museum when it opened in 2003, it remains one of Decatur’s most prominent art spaces and educational centers, offering art classes for all ages and all degrees of ability.
Carnegie Visual Arts Center The Carnegie Visual Arts Center began as the Carnegie Library of Decatur. It was financed by philanthropist and industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie who donated millions of dollars to nonprofit educational organizations in the United States and abroad to establish public libraries. The Carnegie-funded Decatur library was one of 14 in the state. The Beaux Arts-style building cost $8,500 to construct and originally measured 3,500 square feet. Opening its doors in 1904, the Carnegie Library of Decatur served as the city’s public library until 1973. When the library’s collection grew too large to be housed at the Carnegie, the majority of the books were moved to a new location on 6th Avenue, but the building was maintained as the children’s library. The children’s collections were moved to the larger library when they also outgrew the facility. The building then served as a youth center for the nearby First Baptist Church for 20 years.
Carnegie Visual Arts Center Interior In 1997, hoping to find a home for a new arts center, the Decatur Arts Council (now defunct) leased the Carnegie building from the city of Decatur. The building suited the council’s basic needs, but many costly structural problems needed to be corrected before it could be used to exhibit and store artwork. Enthusiastic about the Arts Council’s mission, local businesses, individuals, corporations, the city, and the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) funded a complete renovation and restoration of the building. CVAC officially opened on April 11, 2003. The center was later expanded to 4,200 square feet on two levels.
The lower level has space for educational activities and a catering kitchen. The upper level consists of four connected galleries. The collections housed in the galleries rotate every six to eight weeks. The center also features temporary exhibitions of all types of visual media. Artists such as painter Gary Chapman, animation designer Mercedes Moran, clay sculptor Guadalupe Robinson, and paper artist Michael Liu have exhibited their work there. In addition to exhibitions, the center offers classes in many different types of art. Workshops on handbuilding clay objects, Raku glazing techniques for pottery, painting, and photography, among others, are often hosted at the CVAC.
Sloane Bibb Assemblage CVAC sponsors numerous community events throughout the year. Camp Carnegie, a summer program for children, for instance, includes classes on art, music, acting, and creative writing. In March 2012, CVAC staff organized the Carnegie Carnival, the first Mardi Gras-style celebration in Decatur. Intended to encourage art and family fun, the Carnegie Carnival involves parades, a Red Beans and Rice Cook-off, and an art “Creation Station” for children at Founder’s Park in front of the Old State Bank. Also, CVAC sponsors various musicians and artwork throughout the downtown area. In addition, the CVAC holds silent auctions and other events to benefit the center and local businesses.
The CVAC is governed by a board of directors supervised by an executive director. It employs five part-time staff members and benefits from the efforts of numerous volunteers. The CVAC receives funding from the city of Decatur, Morgan County, membership dues, and grants from the ASCA and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is open to the public from Tuesday through Saturdays and is available to rent for a variety of events. The center is located at 207 Church Street, N.E., in the Bank Street-Old Decatur Historic District near the Old State Bank building and the Morgan County Archives.
Bobinski, George Sylvan. Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association, 1969.