Cincinnati businessman explores artistic
options for 
Masonic Lodge hall

Maile is gathering input from community

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind.  • The city of Madison, Ind., has a long history of preserving structures that have withstood the test of time. When independent real estate investor Robert Maile of Cincinnati came to Madison, he looked at the timeless city and saw a gigantic window of opportunity.


Maile is now beginning to open the window in response to community demand for a cultural center. In May, Maile purchased the former Steinhardt & Hanson building on Main Street, property that still houses Madison's Masonic Lodge. Maile's intention was to turn the colossal structure into a cultural facility.
"I have been interested in the arts and grew up loving them," says Maile, 48. "My wife was a professional musician who played the flute and taught lessons." Maile's 15-year-old son Joseph, is also a seasoned violinist who currently performs with the Cincinnati Symphony's Youth Orchestra and the acclaimed Starling Chamber Orchestra out of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. 
It was through his wife, Gail, that Maile had his initial introduction to Madison. "I never knew about Madison until I met my wife," he said. The couple has now been married for 20 years. They came to Madison often, beginning with the years when they were dating. 
"It was at that point when I fell in love with the town," he said. "I have always been interested in old stuff. Being in Madison and going through the old buildings, I was just crazy about them. This was a paradise for historic rehabilitation."
Maile brings to Madison a strong background in historic building restoration. Starting in 1975 at Proctor & Gamble's Research and Development Department, Maile branched out to invest in historic buildings as early as the 1980s. When he left Proctor & Gamble in 1989, he had accumulated and restored a number of buildings in the Cincinnati area. One of the buildings he owned housed an art gallery.
Maile's plans for the former Steinhardt & Hanson/Masonic Lodge building are many fold. He maintains that the first stage will be to turn the first floor into gallery space with a small coffee shop. "This could be a possible meeting place after work," said Maile. "All original art would hang on the walls of galleries."
For the upstairs, Maile has many ideas. He envisions the possibility of shops on the second floor, including art supply stores and maybe even a radio station. On the third floor, there are two large rooms. One is the meeting room of the Masons. In the purchase agreement, they will continue to meet there through May, 2001. 
Afterward, Maile sees a great potential for the room, including meetings of community groups and other entities, weddings, receptions, reunions, concerts and other performances of a smaller scale. He estimates a maximum seating capacity of about 60 for the room. Maile would also like to make the room available to activities sponsored by Hanover College.
"There are all kinds of ideas and events you could have there. I think we can offer a community place. A spot to meet," he said.
Across the hall from the Masonic meeting room, sits another fair-sized room in which Maile sees the potential for a possible restaurant.
Maile stresses the need for strong community leadership and support to sustain the programming in the building, particularly that of the Madison-Ohio Valley Arts Council.
"This is all new to me," says Maile. "I have a background in historic preservation."
Maile has been contacting community leaders and artists to generate input and explore what needs to be done to make arts and culture happen in the historic Main Street building. He has no specific time-table for opening any aspect of his new venture.

(Part 2)

Local effort continues
on creating a city arts center

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind.  • For years, the idea of a cultural facility has been discussed by the citizens of Madison, Ind. Past surveys, such as the 1994 one titled, "Together We Can," have shown a high level of interest by county residents in the need for more cultural activities.
In 1998, a marketing blueprint was devised under the coordination of the Madison Industrial Development Corp. to explore issues in economic development. One issue was developing a downtown an arts center. The study cited a "burgeoning arts community in Madison with increasing numbers of painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, actors, dancers and others involved in arts and crafts."
Recently, the city officials sponsored a cultural assessment and inventory conducted by Pennsylvania-based consultant Andrea Olin-Gomes. The study identified and tested various cultural groups and tested them, both as consumers and presenters. One recommendation from the study was that an arts council and task force be implemented to explore the issues in demand. 
More recently, the Collaborative Marketing Project of Jefferson County has brought various organizations together to improve the quality of life in the Madison-Jefferson County area. Two more forces involved are Hanover College and Jefferson County residents.
According to Hanover College special projects director Walt Morrill, individual students could potentially benefit from an off-campus cultural facility to showcase their works. But he maintains the importance of continuing cultural activity on the campus as well.
"I would suspect it could be of use to individuals of the college as a gallery or outlet," said Morrill. "The college is interested in outreach." 
Tourism officials also are interested in such a project, according to Linda Lytle, director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Anything that would help the public become more aware of how many local artists we have would be beneficial," Lytle said. "An art center is something people often ask about when they come to Madison. There is definitely a need."
A need is also seen from the arts community itself, both visual and performing. 
"We really don't have a place to display our works," said Lillie Wingham, a past president of the Madison Art Club. "Anyplace around Main Street Madison would be a good place because it would need to be in the business section where something is going on all the time."
Wingham also stressed the need to showcase the talents of local artists, especially through having shows that feature them, individually.
Local artist Stephanie Hellmann agrees: "People come from out of town and ask ëWhere are the local artists?' "
For nearly 20 years, Hellmann has been a strong community activist, much of it in the performing arts. She currently organizes a Writer's Forum called "Food for Thought" and serves on the board of directors for the local theater company, Spectrum Productions. 
In terms of performance art, Hellmann has seen and been a part of groups and shows set up in places used for activities other than theater where there are often nearby objects that have nothing to do with the performance at hand. 
"There have been places where we have had to ëmake do,' but how wonderful it would be to have an actual theater." 
She believes the many performance entities in the area would constantly use the facility. "I don't believe it would ever be sitting idle."
Madison artist Kevin Carlson said, "It would be an ideal space to have a gallery and sell supplies. Also, to have co-op spaces where workshops could be conducted would be helpful."
The next step in the city's effort to explore its need for providing cultural activities is a meeting on what they have termed the "Millennium Arts Center." The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16 at Madison's City Hall. The meeting is being organized by Madison's Special Projects Coordinator Betsey Vonderheide, who describes the city's involvement as "partnering" with the other cultural providers.
"Our greatest efforts have been collaborative ones, and this is a huge project," said Vonderheide.

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