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The Art Centre's director has vision for building

February 12, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Sometimes, Donnie Pomeroy said, old buildings talk to people.

If so, here's what she believes the old federal building - and future home of The Arts Centre in Martinsburg - is saying: "It's ready, ready to have kids in it."

Minus two people, the building was deserted one recent afternoon. Voices all but echoed off the cavernous walls of the building's main floor.

A few large paintings adorned the walls and folding metal chairs were lined up in neat rows.

Sunlight streamed in through a large window and Pomeroy dragged a chair over to bask in its glow.

Blue skies and sunshine are necessities for Pomeroy, a Las Vegas native. She wouldn't give her age, saying only that she's "old enough" and "young at heart."

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Pomeroy, who took over as executive director of The Arts Centre in January, has a vision for the building that involves having arts classes in it every night, daytime classes, an event every weekend and artists-in-residence offering quality programs to area schools.

First, though, she needs to find $7.5 million, including a $1 million endowment, needed to bring the building up to code and have a full slate of programming.

Pomeroy graduated from Chatham College in Pittsburgh with a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and a bachelor's degree in communication theory.

She then worked for eight years in corporate marketing doing video, audio and multi-image shows, before taking time off to help a friend run for mayor.

After the campaign, she said she realized she could not go back to the money-obsessed corporate world.

She later obtained a job in which she worked with nonprofit companies, teaching them the concept of social entrepreneurship.

She found The Arts Centre job posting on the Internet, and was pleased to see Martinsburg is close to Silver Spring, Md., where her daughter and "two delightful grandsons" live.

"I was very much ready to be back in the arts full time," Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy fell in love with the old federal building at the corner of King Street and Maple Avenue, which is brick with arched windows and, on each corner, pointed turrets.

"I just think of it as the big red castle," she said.

She's working on getting a banner to hang on the side of the building so everyone who passes it will know its purpose. A large sign once was erected by the unused front door, but it fell prey to high winds a few months ago and was torn into pieces.

The building, which was finished in 1895, has four floors and a basement. Its potential uses include classrooms for visual arts, poetry readings, dramatic performances and musical performances.

A request to use it for a symphony performance likely will have to be denied since safety regulations declare only 50 sitting people and 100 standing people can occupy the first floor.

Moving the elevator, taking out a revolving front door and adding a second stairwell will help bring the building up to code. A goal is to raise $1.25 million by the end of May. That money will be used to remove an underground oil tank, erect a retaining wall and start repairing the building's many windows, Pomeroy said.

Currently, officials with The Arts Centre are in the silent phase of a capital campaign. A million dollars was raised before Pomeroy came on board, she said.

Pomeroy said community leaders need to step up and support the center. Last month, BB&T Bank granted the center $50,000.

Working plans for the building have been finished and bids can be sought once center officials have the necessary funding.

An investment in the arts should pay off, Pomeroy said.

"Arts is just such a good economic stimulator," she said, adding that the center's location could be pivotal.

"It's the biggest facility in the area. Why not be the hub that weaves all the other organizations together?" she said.

A demand exists. People moving here want a cultural facility and many people have called asking about artist workshops, Pomeroy said.

"This could be the lifeblood of Martinsburg," she said.

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