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Arts Center Safe? City 'Open To' Partnership With Lafayette Park Protesters

Lafayette Center Kids.jpg
City of Tallahassee Web Site

The proposed closure of a city-run arts-and-crafts center brought several Tallahassee residents to protest at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting. Commissioners are weighing whether to shutter the Lafayette Park center as they decide how to cover a budget shortfall of almost $1 million.

The Lafayette Park Arts and Crafts Center, which has been operating for more than 50 years, offers art classes to adults and children. Former student Molly Londot said she wants other kids to be able to experience what she did.

“It’s just really amazing what you can do when you’re taking an art class," she told commissioners on Wedensday. "They show you stuff that you thought, before, ‘Oh, no, no, only, like, grown-ups and professionals can do that.”

Community organizer Tabitha Frazier said she sent out a survey to parents of currently enrolled students, asking how much more they’d be willing to pay for classes.

"And our average was a 40 percent increase for summer camp and a 60 percent for the school year. Just the summer camp totals alone, if you raise it, that’s an increase of almost $20,000," she said. "That’s a large chunk towards the deficit.”

The center costs about $55,000 annually to run. Commissioner Andrew Gillum said he was happy to see citizens provide such detailed alternatives to closing it.

“I would be very much open to, if there is some sort of partnership agreement that can be worked out between now and the final budget period," he said.

City resident Alan Brown said closing the center doesn’t make sense alongside the Gaines Street revitalization project.  

“Tallahassee has spent a fortune developing 'G Street.' Shutting down the only community arts center here would slight those efforts," he said. "If we want a city with culture, we need to cultivate culture.”

Brown said the center needs better signage on site as well as better advertising to increase enrollment.

After hearing from several other parents and children, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks said he’d like to see the protesters organize formally as a Friends of Lafayette Park to work with the city on the issue.

“I think the suggestions that you’ve offered are really great. And, I mean, you’re willing to work with it too," he said. "Hey, let’s go."

The commission will present its final budget at two public meetings in September and take a vote before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.