The Spruill Center for the Arts is currently “gridlocked” at its home at the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center and says more classroom space is needed immediately if the renowned nonprofit organization is to stay in Dunwoody.

That was a major message presented to the mayor and City Council Oct. 8 when they were presented with the city’s first Arts and Culture Master Plan, dubbed “Create Dunwoody.”

The city’s first Arts and Culture Master Plan includes an illustration of how the current North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center could be transformed. (City of Dunwoody)

The space issue “probably needed to be solved two years ago,” consultant Susan Silberberg of CivicMoxie said. The city hired CivicMoxie last year for approximately $86,000 to come up with the Create Dunwoody Arts and Culture Master Plan presented at the meeting.

Bob Kinsey, CEO of the Spruill Center for the Arts, told the council during public comment that he and his board have looked to moving to Sandy Springs because the space for programming is so tight at the center’s current home.

The Spruill Center is not facing financial hardship, but the crowded classrooms and having to constantly turn people away from its popular arts classes, he said, is preventing the nonprofit arts group from fulfilling its mission.

“We are gridlocked,” Kinsey said of the Spruill Center’s location at the arts center on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. “We are anxious to move forward with an expansion. And we are willing to fund a good amount of that. Waiting a couple years is not an option.”

The Spruill Art Gallery with the famous “Everything Will Be OK” mural is a separate facility located on Ashford-Dunwoody Road.

Also located in the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center are the Stage Door Players and the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild. The arts center shares a building with the Dunwoody Library.

The proposed master plan states the Spruill Center immediately needs three more classrooms totaling 2,000 square feet; Stage Door seeks to grow from 125 seats to 300-350 seats; and the guild needs twice its existing space of approximately 600 feet.

One of the master plan’s proposed scenarios to find that space includes expansion of the Spruill Center on site by relocating Stage Door Players to one of the city-owned medical office buildings adjacent to Pernoshal Park and moving the handweavers guild to the old Austin Elementary School building once that site is available.

Shortal seemed to discount the idea immediately. “To shut them down for any amount of time puts them to an end,” he said.

Public discussion on what to do with the old Austin Elementary School will be heard before any decision is made, council members stated. No action was taken on the master plan and another public vetting of the plan is slated for Nov. 5.

Other proposed ideas in the master plan include adding a second floor to the arts center or even demolishing the building.

Stage Door Players’ Artistic Director Robert Egizio was not at the council meeting but participated in the Arts and Culture Master Plan. He said the company has long needed more space but there is no immediate need to move out like the Spruill Center said it is facing.

“We definitely need more space,” he said in an interview. “But we can wait. We’re lucky because we can add performances.”

If the Spruill Center for the Arts relocates, the Stage Door Players would be happy to use their space for its programming, Egizio said. “It would be a godsend,” he said.

The Spruill Center’s need for space is not a new one. Kinsey went before the council in February 2017 asking for the city’s financial help in expanding its space. The organization decided to wait until the Arts and Culture Master Plan was completed before taking a next step. But that next step may mean moving out of Dunwoody.

“We urge you to please consider this [master plan] as quickly as you can and give us some direction,” Spruill Center’s Board President Rose Kirkland told the council. “We have a desire to stay where we are. We love being part of this community.”

In an interview, Kinsey said Spruill Center needs buy-in and investment from the city to expand because it owns the cultural arts center building. “We can’t do anything without them,” he said.

Cost for a major expansion at the arts center would be in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. He and Kirkland added they do not want to find a third space for classes because having two locations is confusing.

Major discussion also centered around the idea of public art, funding and the creation of a nonprofit arts council.

Councilmember Terry Nall said wall murals do not belong in Dunwoody.

“I’m not interested in murals on walls,” he said. “When I see murals, I think of a more urban look. We struggle to maintain a suburban lifestyle. These painted walls look like Midtown and Downtown and that is not what we are.”

How to fund any of the proposals in the master plan was also a key concern for most council members.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees in Dunwoody, Georgia,” Mayor Denis Shortal said. And, he noted, government “always has to subsidize the arts, like public transportation.”

Silberberg said it’s important to understand a thriving arts and culture program enhances a city’s tax base and promotes economic development by developers and corporations seeking amenities for customers and employees.

Another top priority proposed in the master plan is the creation of a nonprofit “Create Dunwoody Partnership” arts council separate from city government but with city collaboration, including seed money from the city. Annual funding for the council is estimated at up to $150,000 including a paid staff member.

Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said major corporations are not relocating to Dunwoody to be in Dunwoody; rather they consider themselves to be part of Atlanta. And large company CEOs are more likely to contribute to a major Atlanta foundation over a local Dunwoody arts council, she said.

Silberberg said the idea is not to sell a Dunwoody arts initiative to national corporations to compete with Atlanta but to sell it as a recruitment tool to attract top-notch employees seeking to work and live in a place that values arts and culture.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.