INSTITUTION: CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER, ‘…to inspire and enrich lives by connecting community and culture”

IDEA: What was once the site of an elementary school has transformed into another type of center for learning. Instead of recesses and hot lunch, the once Central Elementary School in Newberg, Oregon is now a place to learn about everything from ceramics, to photography, to performing arts. The Chehalem Cultural Center, a non-profit organization, opened in March 2010 and has since been enriching lives through arts, culture, and heritage. 

IMPACT:  "Our goal is to make this a cultural center that will rival those found in Portland or Seattle," says Lauren Wylie, marketing coordinator at the Center. "We are making this center something that will be unique in the Pacific Northwest, but a place for everyone to enjoy." While the building is currently owned by the Chehalem Park and Recreation District, it’s operated and managed by the Chehalem Cultural Center, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Newberg city officials hope the Center will be one of the cornerstones of a cultural district in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. The Center is located next to the Newberg Public Library, crowning what Newberg calls the Civic Corridor. In addition to the library, along this corridor is the Newberg Graphic, City Hall, the Newberg Fire Department and Memorial Park. 

The Center is housed in a historic brick building that began its life in 1935 as Central School—a Depression era Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. 

Summary:  The historic building houses a fine arts gallery and exhibition hall, three multipurpose arts studio classrooms, a state-of-the-art clay studio, a recording studio with four music practice studios, meeting space, and an elegant 5,200 square foot grand ballroom for public and private events. Most of the ground floor of the Center is completely renovated and contains the Parrish Art Gallery, ceramic and music studios and multi-use classrooms. The upper floors and west wing are in different stages of construction and will be completed in phases based on funding.  Future phases include a 250-seat theater, a conference center with three additional multi-purpose meeting space/classrooms, and a movement studio.  The 'Magic Sauce' of the Center is to create opportunities to enrich lives. Housed in a historic school building in the heart of downtown Newberg, Oregon, the Chehalem Cultural Center is a place where the community can experience literary, visual, and performing arts. Programming  includes  workshop and education events that focus on cultural diversity, contemporary trends, historical relationships, and traditional customs in a social atmosphere. The Center promises to be that special place where the community comes to connect with its heritage, celebrate its present, and create its future. 

The Center hosts a variety of activities that are free for the public to enjoy including cultural celebrations like the Newberg Camellia Festival, Dia de los Muertos, and in 2012, Celebrate Afrika!  Other non-profits utilize the center to host programming such as the Newberg Farmer’s Market and Tunes on Tuesday.   “We are listening to what our community and visitors want and then developing programs that meet their needs,” Wylie says. “This area will be developed into a cultural district, making it a great place to stop on the way to the coast or while visiting wine country.” The center has been operating for two years and in that time they have developed a diversity of art and culture classes that include ceramics, painting, drawing, and glass along with summer camps and one-day workshops. The Center also offers art and cultural outreach programming (Culture 360°) to schools, business and corporations.   .About one-third of the 40,000 square-foot building is complete and the center was recently awarded the LEED Silver certification for its conscious design efforts that include solar panels, reclaiming the original fir flooring and reusing them as unique architectural accents – making the restoration of the building reason enough to visit.  

If classes aren’t of interest, visiting the Parrish art gallery is a must. The gallery exhibits eight to ten different exhibits a year. When I was there, a collection of stunning photographs were exhibited from the Portland Photographers’ Forum.  The center also has space available to rent out for weddings, community meetings, and a variety of other events. Non-profit rates are available.  

Relationship/Collaboration Innovations:    The real genius....yes, genius... of the Center is it's bring together so many small and fragile activities and programs within a solid structure that embodies the historic, cultural, and geo-political fabric of the Newberg community.   By restoring a historic, educational, civic, and iconographic facility....and at the same time transforming it into a central repository of new cultural has created a powerful translation of the Community's will.   Funding is always a huge challenge for cultural/art centers.   They almost always have to rely on huge philanthropic and corporate funding.  And while their certainly was some major donors backing this effort,  the future of this institution will be the bringing together of its multi-facet community to make it work.

One of the great lessons to the rest of Oregon is the gathering together of activities, resources, thought and cultural leaders, and a broad demographic of people to plan, design, fund, and build this authentic expression of their community.  It identifies their cultural values, how they see their future, and why this facility makes sense in their community...and becomes a physical manifestation.

 Network: Identifying and organizing the design/creative institutions, organizations, policy makers, educators, and ‘thought leaders & makers’ Statewide, regional, community 

O/BD Role: To bring attention to this seminal institution in Newberg and highlight the role in which it serves to enrich the local community through architectural and programmatic design.  The Center is a wonderful illustration of the power of bringing together public, private, for profit and not-for-profit entities to create an outcome greater than the sum of its parts.  Other communities through Oregon can take heart over the spirit, 'can-do-spirit', and creating important collaborations to create a network throughout the greater Newberg community.  

Information provided from article by- Patrick Johnson,

 ©Oregon/By Design.