Ribbon Cutting Held for Hayden Family Center for the Arts

May 19, 2021

More than 100 donors, partners and public officials gathered Wednesday on the plaza of the new CAN DO Community Park to celebrate the official ribbon cutting of the Hayden Family Center for the Arts.

The event is the result of an eight-year effort to renovate the former Security Savings Bank on Broad Street as the cornerstone of the downtown’s revitalization plan. The building serves as the new home for Hazleton Art League. Guests were invited to tour the building and enjoy the featured exhibit hanging in the gallery before the formal remarks.

More than 70 local families, individuals, private corporations and charitable foundations contributed to the Banking on the Arts Capital Campaign, which launched in 2018 by the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress. The campaign raised $1.2 million to match state grants that the city secured for restoration efforts. The center was named for the Hayden Family which made the largest contribution toward the project.

Speaking on behalf of the family, James Hayden, one of five children of Florence and the late George J. Hayden, recalled that when he became aware of the project back in 2018 he sent a note to his siblings about the idea.

“If dad was 100%, he would want to give this gift to his wife, who has loved and enjoyed the Hazleton Art League her entire life,” he said. “ Nothing made her happier than taking an art class, learning about art, or just admiring works of art. Our Mom served as a board member of the Hazleton Art League, she and my father spent many date nights there painting, making stained glass, and we even have a stepping-stone that is still outside our home today. It was a time and place where they could spend quality time with each other, have fun, meet new friends and laugh over their finished works of art.”

George J. Hayden passed away in 2019. All five children and 18 grandchildren were in attendance to participate in the ribbon-cutting event.

Krista Schneider, director of the Downtown Alliance, recalled the many years the building sat vacant. “I remember becoming intrigued by this building when I first moved back to the Hazleton Area in 2006, long before the Alliance was formed,” she said. “I was working in the Broad Street Business Exchange, just across the street. I remember each day I would walk to my car, look at the building, wonder about its history and why it sat vacant.”

Luzerne County owned the building at that pouint. The alliance purchased it in 2014 for $25,000 when the county put it up for sale.

“I thank CAN DO (Kevin O’Donnell) and Neal DeAngelo for stepping up back then and donating the funds for us to be able to purchase it,” said Schneider.

She also thanked other donors who contributed to the campaign, noting that the project has been central to the downtown’s revitalization efforts because “arts and cultural programs are what will help build bridges in this community.”

Up until last year, the Hazleton Art League was based in a building further east on Broad Street that the Markle Family donated in the 1950s.

Over time, the league found that the building could no longer serve its needs.

Carl Frankel, a longtime league member who serves as co-president, felt that this new central location will provide greater accessibility and greater potential for marketing its programs and events, as well as greater opportunities to reach more people and offer more programs, attract new members – particularly youth and ethnically diverse groups – and energize their organization in the process.

“We are not a wealthy community and yet we come together to do big things when we need to,” he said.

Frankel also warmly recalled memories of George J. Hayden, whom he knew for many years as a “good, decent, kind, and community-minded man.”

The art league officially moved into the newly renovated center last April, just after the pandemic prompted restrictions on social gatherings.

Over the past year, it was limited on the types of events and programs it could host in its new home.

According to Alicia Hayden Gomba, who serves as a member of the planning committee, “the members of this board never stop working and have an idea a minute, and I am so glad to be a part of it.”

Kathy Bestwick, the league’s co-president, noted that a new art center in downtown Phoenixville, which she founded more than 15 years ago while living there, helped transform that community from one of vacancy to vibrancy.

Bestwick, recently retired and moved Hazleton, in large part because of the new art center. “What a gift you all have given to the community,” she said.

Schneider noted that while the building renovations may be complete, the work of community rebuilding is not.

“It is not simply these physical features we need,” Schnieder said. “We also need people, we need leadership, and we need volunteers who want to get engaged in civic life. The art league needs new members and we need your continued support to fund the programs that will take place here. We built a strong foundation, but now we must build on it. We have a new generation who will leave their marks on this city. Let’s make this a place where friendships are forged, and big bold creative ideas are born and nurtured.”

The Hazleton Art League has been planning free- and low-cost programs for the community. Programs include the upcoming annual Art Youth Expo, now in its 10th year, on June 4 and 5. The expo is dedicated to recognizing artistic talents of our area’s young people. It is also offering an eight-week Art Youth Summer Camp for children ages 6-14, which will run from June 21-Aug 20.

These programs are in addition to a monthly Acoustic Jam series, which is held the fourth Sunday of each month, and a monthly rotating Gallery Exhibition that features the work of local and other artists. Plans are also underway for the annual Peace Love & Chalk art contest that will take place in early September.

For more information about these events, or to volunteer, provide sponsorships, or purchase raffle tickets in support of the Art League’s fund drive, CLICK HERE, or call 570-455-3333, or email exedir@hazletonsartleague.org.

The alliance is also planning an Arts in the Park Summer Concert Series, which will coincide with the July, August, and September First Fridays and take place in the new CAN DO Community Park adjacent to the center. Sponsorships for each concert are being solicited, and more information about the series will be released

~ Sam Galski, Standard~Speaker

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