Gadsden, Alabama
2000 City Livability Award Winner Sample Initial Application, Small Cities

1. Briefly describe your program

The Center for Cultural Arts is a public/private partnership operated by the Gadsden Cultural Arts Foundation. Two buildings and a courtyard compose the cultural campus that is located in the heart of downtown Gadsden.

Programs offered:

  • Three exhibit halls – featuring local, regional and national artists.
  • Gadsden Community School for the Arts – offering visual, dance and music classes.
  • Etowah Youth Orchestras - consistently rated one of the top programs in the nation.
  • Imagination Place hands-on children’s museum
  • Courtyard Concert Series – hosting 60 outdoor concerts May to October.
  • Model Railroad Club – preserving local history through a 2-foot model of 1940’s Gadsden with working railroads
  • Community Meeting Space – for proms, reunions, civic clubs, etc.
  • Youth ALIVE! – helping underserved youth make a successful transition to adulthood.
  • Centerstage Presents...- hosting musical and theatrical performances.
  • Callan Concert Series and BIGMEN – brings entertainment to Gadsden.
  • Gadsden Metropolitan Arts Council – offices for the GMAC to plan programs such as a summer art camp.

2. When and why was it created?

In 1980’s, Rand McNally ranked Gadsden one of the nation’s ten worst U.S. cities to live. The community received a zero in the arts and culture category. The Mayor and city leaders realized that the need for an arts "center" where the arts would be visible and accessible. With strong leadership from Mayor Steve Means and great support from the City Council, the Gadsden Cultural Arts Foundation was created and the Center for Cultural Arts opened its doors in the early 90’s. Its mission was to provide, maintain and operate a cultural arts facility for Gadsden, Etowah County and surrounding communities. It was chartered in response to citizen initiatives, as an independent, non-profit organization working to enrich lives, support artistic progress, affirm individual value, and to promote a sense of well-being for all people.

3. How has the program improved the quality of life in your community?

Since opening, the Center has filled the need for a large, upscale meeting facility, as well as a creating a more visible arts hub. More than 100,000 people visit the Center and participate in its programs each year. This increased traffic has contributed to the revitalization of the downtown area. In 1990, the occupancy rate downtown was 68 percent. When the Center first opened, the occupancy rate downtown was 68 percent. Today it is 92 percent.

Citizens feel a sense of ownership in the Center and its "can do" enthusiasm towards bringing cultural opportunities to Gadsden through the arts. The Gadsden community has gone from "The Worst 10 Cities to Live In" list to recognition as an "All American City" and today is recognized throughout the state as an innovative, progressive, culturally rich city.

4. Why is your program outstanding or innovative?

How many cities of less than 50,000 offer so many art-related services? The programs and opportunities the City of Gadsden provided through the Center of Cultural Arts is a testament to what the arts bring to a community and how a commitment to the arts can better the lives of citizens.