Marion Nelson, vice president of the Peninsula Art Guild, explains some of the renovations that will be taking place at the Kenai Fine Art Center on Sept. 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Marion Nelson, vice president of the Peninsula Art Guild, explains some of the renovations that will be taking place at the Kenai Fine Art Center on Sept. 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Fine Art Center gets pandemic makeover

Shuttered due to pandemic, Kenai Fine Art Center gets makeover

It’s been six months since the Kenai Fine Art Center had any exhibits in its gallery, and by the time the space is ready for visitors again, it will look very different.

Thanks to several grants from the city of Kenai, the Peninsula Art Guild recently secured enough funds to start renovations that have been several years in the making.

Marion Nelson, vice president of the Peninsula Art Guild, said the pandemic actually presented the opportunity to make these renovations happen.

“We couldn’t justify opening given that we have so many volunteers that help us out at the front desk, and the tourism was for sure going to be down,” Nelson said. “It really just didn’t make sense. And so after certainly much hand wringing, we decided that (closing) was the way to go, and then that gave us this opportunity to get in here and tear into some things.”

The building that is now the Fine Art Center was originally a small jailhouse, built by volunteer firefighters and police officers in the 1950s, Nelson said. The jail cell is still in place, wrought-iron bars and all, and now serves as the back office.

One major part of the renovations will involve removing a wall in the back part of the building that will expand the space used for workshops and offer an unobstructed view of the jail cell, which Nelson said is always a big draw for visitors.

The bathroom will also be expanded by removing the back wall, and combining it with what is now a storage closet. Nelson said the main goal there is to make the restroom handicap accessible.

In addition, there will be an additional “executive” bathroom installed next to the jail cell/office.

New windows throughout the gallery, improved lighting, and a three-compartment sink are also included in the renovation plans.

Nelson said that although these renovation plans have been in place for about three years, it was only recently that the Art Guild was able to receive funding from the city of Kenai to cover the costs.

At their Aug. 5 meeting, Kenai City Council passed Ordinance 3416-2020, which appropriated nearly $1.5 million from the city’s general fund to be used on various projects, including improvements to the Kenai Community Library, the Kenai Visitor & Cultural Center, the Kenai Recreation Center, roadway repairs and updates to the city’s IT infrastructure.

An amendment introduced by council members Robert Peterkin and Tim Navarre included the Fine Art Center in these appropriations and was successfully adopted. As a result, the Fine Art Center secured $100,000 for construction costs.

“We have had a long-standing relationship with the city, and this is a city building,” Nelson said. “And so it was a unanimous vote ‘yes’ to include us with all the other facilities in Kenai that are being assisted with some grant money.”

As for when the Fine Art Center will see visitors again, Nelson said it won’t be until at least next year.

“We had a full schedule this year, and we will hope to transfer a good share of those artists and exhibits into next year,” Nelson said. “And of course we’ve had some ideas since then, so we’ll see.”

Typically the gallery has a different show for each month of the year. On the first Thursday of each month there is an opening reception at the center, during which visitors get to meet the artist or artists whose works are on display. The next First Thursday event, Nelson said, will likely celebrate both the first exhibit of 2021 and the completion of the Art Center renovations.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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