The Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center (MACC), formerly known as the Fisher Community Center, took a heavy hit when the derecho rolled through town on Aug. 10, 2020, but just over two years later it’s de back and better than ever.
Local leaders and key stakeholders in the process celebrated its reopening on Sunday afternoon with a formal ceremony that included speeches from MACC Board Chairman Karn Gregoire, Director of the Cultural Affairs Department of the Iowa, Chris Kramer, Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO John Hall, Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer, and MACC Director of Operations Nancy Vellinga Burke. Guided tours of the building, including the famous Fisher Art Museum, were also offered. Several food trucks were set up outside and local acoustic duo Bon Jecci played outside under the bandshell until the weather interrupted their set.
During his speech, Grégoire thanked all the members of the community who continued to believe in MACC’s vision for the future even after the storm and especially those who contributed financially. In total, more than $6 million has been raised so far — including about $750,000 in state grants — and the plan is to raise about $2.5 million more, with $500,000 dollars for construction that has already taken place and $2 million to renovate the Martha-Ellen Tye Playhouse.
And although the work is not completely finished, Sunday marked an important milestone as Grégoire recalled some of the “blessings” that helped make the renovation a reality. She praised FEH Architects, general contractor Garling Construction and his board for bringing it to fruition.
“A few years ago, the leaders of Marshalltown Vision set out to bring pride back to Marshalltown. Today we welcome a cornerstone that represents the pride of our community, our history and our future. Thank you for your support,” Grégoire said. “We still have a long way to go, but I know Marshalltown will get there.”
Kramer said the Department of Cultural Affairs has been “rooting” for Marshalltown amid tornado and derecho setbacks over the past five years, and she praised residents for their continued resilience through it all.
“We’ve just tried to be there to listen, to help shape things, to contribute things and just to provide a lot of encouragement, but our mission here at the Department of Cultural Affairs is to build culturally vibrant communities that put showcasing the people, places and points of pride that define our state. And nobody does it better than Marshalltown, Iowa, so congratulations,” she said.
Hall recounted his experiences of being involved with the project almost immediately after starting his job last summer, and his only response was yes — to whatever Gregory and the board needed.
“We are very proud to have played a small part in helping the restoration come to fruition and we look forward to playing a very big part in ensuring the facility is used and well used, visitors are welcome in the community and feel the impact of what this facility means to Marshalltown,” Hall said.
Greer echoed the theme of resilience and became emotional as he discussed how businesses and organizations that had the choice to abandon Marshalltown after the storms chose to stay and “do something about it” at the place.
“I can’t wait to see you guys and see what it means to do something here,” Greer said. “What’s important to me and what I like to tell people here today is (that) Marshalltown is a neighborhood where if you have a good idea and you get the right people behind it, the money will come.”
Gregoire was involved in the process from the start, and she was delighted to show the public the new and improved facility and its famous art collection, which was restored and returned in August. Even in the last few months, it took several significant “finishing touches” to get the building where it needed to be, and Burke worked hard on other aspects of the project as well.
“(It has been) day by day, getting closer. There have been a lot of loose ends – monitors and electronics throughout the building,” Gregoire said. “Not only did we prepare the building, the points list and the construction, but Nancy, in particular, worked very hard to develop the website, to develop the brochures, to develop the rental policies. These are all operational tasks that she worked very hard on, because what is essential for this installation is that we have long-term sustainability.
Burke, whose father was the center’s longtime namesake and personal assistant to financier Bill Fisher, offered a similar assessment of the home stretch of the renovations.
“It was a blur, and I pretty much lived here — lots of last-minute details,” Burke said. “I just think it’s going to be phenomenal, and I’m so excited for everyone to see this.”
Prior to the derecho, Gregoire said, the building operated on a “month-to-month survival” basis with no steady stream of income or long-term plan. By renting office space to several local organizations and opening the MACC up for event rentals with a professional catering kitchen, they hope to solve this problem in the future.
“Maintenance of the facility was non-existent because there was literally no cash flow to do it,” she said.
A team of employees from Emerson, the company that Bill Fisher ran for decades while it still bore his name, embraced the grounds to ensure they were kept clean and tidy.
“As pristine as the inside of this facility is, the outside matches it, and that’s thanks to this team at Emerson,” Gregoire said. “What really touches me is that Bill Fisher, who donated this facility and the art, owned Fisher, and now we have the employees – and now it’s Emerson – and they’ve taken on them to continue to care for what their original owner gave away. How cool is that?”
With one of the most notable art collections in the country for a city the size of Marshalltown and the mid-century modern vibe still intact, Gregoire envisions the MACC as “the cornerstone of community pride.” in the future. She heard some of the complaints, especially from longtime Marshalltown residents, about the decision to change the name of Fisher Community Center to MACC. The way she sees it, however, the facility and especially the art collection will attract people from across the state and country, and including the town in the name will help put Marshalltown on the map.
Heidi Peglow, another MACC board member, thinks concerns will be more likely to be allayed once visitors see how Bill Fisher has received his due, and Gregoire couldn’t agree more.
“If you said it was at the Fisher Community Center, there’s no Marshalltown identification. We have an opportunity here to build Marshalltown pride because we are going to be known as the Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center. It puts Marshalltown on the map – locally, regionally and nationally,” Gregoire said. “That’s part of the reason we changed the name, because it’s Marshalltown… (But) we have Fisher all over here, and we’re very, very happy with that.”
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or [email protected]