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DOWNEY - After a nearly four-year vacancy, the Downey City Council is preparing to decide the fate of the nearly 55-year-old Furman Park building, which formally housed the Downey Museum of Art, but could become a YMCA community center as early as next year.
Hoping to utilize the empty building, the Downey Family YMCA submitted a proposal in October hoping to turn the Furman Park facility into an arts, enrichment, and leadership center.
"Our YMCA Arts, Education and Leadership programs are an opportunity for youth, teens, adults and families to gain exposure to an aspect of our culture that may not have been available to them," YMCA officials said in a proposal.
"We plan to offer a variety of classes and workshops year round aimed at encouraging creativity, self-expression and personal development."
However, members of the DMOA, who occupied the building since its founding in 1957 until its eviction in 2009, say they need their old site back in order for the museum to survive.
Board President George Redfox acknowledges the museum's mismanagement in the past resulting in the group losing its lease, but he ensured the new board of directors has a plan to restore the integrity of the once prominent museum of contemporary art.
"The YMCA is a great organization for fitness and health -- it's known for those things, but you'd think if you had a building set aside for the arts, you'd choose a museum," he said. "We're a museum, they're a business."
According to Redfox, the DMOA's 400-piece art collection, which includes over 80 paintings by 20th century muralist and painter Boris Deutsch, is currently locked away in a small storage locker.
In a plan submitted to the city this month entitled "Going Forward," the board resolved to build public support for the organization through comprehensive public relations outreach, a grants program, and strategic partnerships with local arts institutions.
Those plans, however, must start with the reopening of the museum at Furman Park, Redfox said.
"If we don't get the building, the chances of us surviving are slim to none," he said. "We need a place to show and store our collection...and we must have a permanent place in the community to apply for grants. We can't do that right now because we haven't been able to show our art."
Anne Ullstrom, executive director of the Downey YMCA, says the organization was unaware of DMOA's proposal when they submitted theirs to the city and had no intention of vying against the museum.
"Not at all, absolutely not," said Ullstrom. "The YMCA wants whatever is in the best of the community -- and I think everybody wants the same thing...to help out the community any way we can."
According to the proposal issued in October, the Downey YMCA hopes to utilize the building at Furman Park to house its youth and teen leadership programs.
"We found out there was a need and thought we could help fill it," she said. "There really isn't a community center on that side of town."
Based on a sample schedule provided by the YMCA, mid-day programs would include senior activities such as book club meetings, social events, health and wellness workshops and luncheons. After-school and evening programming would take on a youth and family focus starting with the youth and government program as well as music, theatre, painting, graphic design, creative writing, and dance classes.
During weekends, the YMCA envisions the space for ESL classes, parent and child programming, and other special events.
If approved by the council, the YMCA would enter a 10-year lease agreement with the city, paying $1 a year to occupy the Furman Park building. The city would pay all utilities, service bills, property taxes, exterior maintenance costs, and insurances while the YMCA would pay all interior maintenance costs and operate the programming at no expense to the city.
Either party could terminate the agreement at any time by notifying the other party in writing 30 days in advance.
YMCA estimates the community center will open approximately 90 days after city approval pending the completion of facility repairs.
"That's the plan, if approved we would move very quickly," Ullstrom said. "But I want to reiterate, we're a big supporter of the arts, but if we can help -- we're happy to do so."
Redfox is hopeful, nonetheless, that the community will rally around the museum, which heralded arts and culture decades before its more modern counterparts.
"We're a museum for the whole community -- we want to have lectures, classes, events," he said. "But it makes it tough when you don't have access to your own building."
Published: Nov. 28, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 33