PROGRESS 2022: Return of the MACC — Iconic Marshalltown facility wraps up renovations ahead of reopening

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY —  Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center Executive Director Nancy Vellinga Burke, left, and Board of Trustees President Karn Gregoire, right, pose for a photo next to a section of the old wall inside of the historic local building.

Because of its location south of the downtown area, the Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center (MACC) — which had long previously been known as the Fisher Community Center — avoided the worst of the 2018 tornado that ripped through the heart of the city. The 2020 derecho, however, was a whole different animal.

Less than two years after that once in a lifetime straight line windstorm, the MACC is prepared to welcome the general public back to the new and improved facility with an open house on Sept. 18, and the first ever full time executive director, Marshalltown native Nancy Vellinga Burke, is preparing to move into a state of the art office alongside the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance, the Marshalltown Area United Way and the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation.

Karn Gregoire, who serves as the president of the MACC’s board of trustees, has been intimately involved throughout the rebuilding process and overseen the entire project, but plans to make the iconic building first constructed in 1958 — and its legendary art collection — even better predate the derecho by several years.

In 2014, a small group that included Gregoire began to engage in discussions about how to preserve and promote longtime building namesake Bill Fisher’s art, and it was determined that the pieces and their frames needed to be shipped out, cleaned and restored and the entire collection needed to be professionally appraised. The cost, as it turned out, was going to run north of $200,000, and at the time, they didn’t have a cent on hand.

“We’re starting this whole project with a zero budget, zero money. The Fisher-Governor (Foundation) owned the art and owned the building, but there was no money in this foundation,” Gregoire said. “So we’re starting all of this from ground zero.”

One of the first big breaks was a $100,000 grant from the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation (named after Bill Fisher’s sister), and Martha Gervich and Jane Bauer led a “deliberate campaign” to privately fundraise the other $100,000. Everything was falling into place, but then the tornado hit.

Although, as previously mentioned, the storm did the lion’s share of its damage to the north in the downtown area, Gregoire and the board didn’t feel right continuing to ask for donations to restore art as so much of the community sat in shambles. That pushed things back another year to 2019, but once again, the money began to flow in fairly quickly.

By the end of 2019, the funds were secured, but the COVID pandemic threw another roadblock in front of the effort. Eventually, it proceeded again, and the Conservation Center sent environmentally controlled vehicles to package the collection and transport it to where it would be restored. A month later, the derecho wiped out the building, but luckily, the art wasn’t inside of it.

During conversations about restoring the art, Gregoire also formed a separate ad hoc committee specifically focused on devising a plan to renovate and modernize the building, and they worked with an architectural firm on designs and announced intentions to fundraise for that project. But they couldn’t have possibly imagined that it would become an outright necessity almost overnight.

Removing asbestos alone cost north of $500,000, and the total adjusted price tag on the renovation and reconstruction of the building is now estimated at $8.5 million. The entire roof needed to be replaced, and in all, insurance has only covered about $2.5 million of the total expense.

“There are so many things that the insurance company wasn’t going to pay us unless we started renovating, unless we started righting the wrongs,” Gregoire said. “So our hands were tied. We had to move forward if we were going to gain these millions of dollars from the insurance company.”

The Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation came through with another $1 million grant, and other corporate partners like Emerson — the company Bill once ran — have made major contributions to the renovation, which has now seen about $6 million raise in total. Nonetheless, if the committee’s vision is to be fully realized, they will still need to bring in approximately $2.5 million more, $2 million of which would go to new carpet, handicap accessible bathrooms and a new reception area at the Martha-Ellen Tye Playhouse.

“There are things in that theater that have got to be upgraded, and in order to do that, we have to raise the funds,” Gregoire said. “We have intentionally made this building to be state of the art so that the community can use this and have full access to the internet, to conferencing and to everything about it.”

Some of the work will require the fundraising committee to collect pledge cards from additional donors, and some will involve finding entirely new contributors who care about creating a state of the art hub for entertainment, art and culture in Marshalltown.

Other than all of the improvements inside of the facility and the freshly restored art collection, the most notable change for those who enter the MACC come September may be its name and signage. Because Bill Fisher played such a crucial and instrumental role in building the center and making it nationally renowned with the art he purchased — which includes a Monet painting that made headlines in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune when a would-be thief attempted to steal it in 1987 — the decision to change the name wasn’t an easy one.

Ultimately, Gregoire explained, it boiled down to a desire to get a simple message across: the MACC is for everyone, and it belongs to all of Marshalltown.

“This is a huge opportunity for Marshalltown to be very prideful and say ‘We are Marshalltown,’ and this is a significant thing that you can do or see when you come to Marshalltown,” she said. “And so we wanted Marshalltown in the name. That was really important to us.”

Fisher’s family understood the thought process behind the proposed change and gave their wholehearted blessing. If it would benefit the community and the local economy, they were all for it.

For Burke, who had a personal friendship with members of the Fisher family as a youngster, coming onboard during such an exciting period of transition in the MACC’s history was like a dream come true. Looking into the future, she envisions it as a “beehive of activity” for visitors of all ages.

“It has always been a very unique and interesting and beautiful building, and one of the first things I mentioned to Karn during the first tour I got of the building was just that they had done a really good job of maintaining the integrity — very mid century modern,” she said. “It kind of speaks to Bill Fisher and Dorothy Fisher. They had excellent taste, and that translated into this beautiful community center.”

The entire process has seen its share of starts, stops, delays and hurdles to jump, but it has also provided the opportunity to build a dream facility with one of the best art displays and museums in the nation that everyone who calls Marshalltown home or even just visits can be proud of, no matter what it’s called. Plans for future expansions are already in the works, and the board of trustees — Gregoire, her husband Paul, Heidi Peglow, Carol Hibbs, Mike Mason, Heidi Dalal, Amber Danielson, Jessica Kinser, Sharon Greer, David Clark, Cynthia Ragland and John Hall — almost certainly isn’t done yet.

“There have been continuous blessings. I’m a very faith-based person, very spiritual, and I just absolutely believe that the timing and everything that has happened, this is God’s doing,” Gregoire said. “I don’t have the wherewithal to pull something like this off, and so the credit has got to go to God.”

The grand reopening of the MACC will be held on Sept. 18, and anyone interested in renting the facility after that date can contact Burke at director@maccia.org.


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