Extraordinary opportunities sometimes occur when and where they are least expected.
The Renaissance Performing Arts Association and the Little Buckeye Children’s Museum—already collaborators in the development of the popular Little Ren exhibit at the Museum—began discussions in earnest in 2105 regarding a shared concern: their lack of space to meet the educational and cultural needs of Mansfield and surrounding communities. The opportunity to resolve this shared dilemma and create an innovative and collaborative solution occurred in 2016 when the Renaissance Performing Arts Association purchased the building at 166 Park Avenue West to create the Renaissance Education Center, and then purchased the former Rainbow Mortgage building demolished in 2019 to make way for a new “Plaza” green space area. Subsequently, the Museum purchased the adjacent building at 174 Park Avenue West in December 2018.
Together, the two organizations have currently raised more than $6.5 million to establish the Imagination District, a joint venture that provides multiple arts and education experiences and drives economic growth in Mansfield. This extraordinary investment is a catalyst to connect the western edge of the city with the rest of downtown, strengthening the core of Park Avenue West for future development. The leadership of the Renaissance and the Museum established an account at the Richland County Foundation restricted exclusively to the Imagination District and committed to jointly embark on a $6 million capital campaign, comprising $4.5 million for the new Little Buckeye Children’s Museum and $1.5 million for the Renaissance Education Center. The $6 million initial goal was mutually agreed upon after an extensive analysis to determine the costs of construction and renovation, and to cover expenses for the first three years of operations as additional earned and contributed revenue streams are created to cover all operations at both facilities.
The Imagination District will further the respective missions of the Renaissance and the Museum, meet the needs of our community, and establish an attractive, creative and financially viable anchor from a series of neglected, derelict buildings. A visual eyesore near the heart of downtown Mansfield has been reclaimed as a cultural and educational hub. This development—which has been funded almost entirely through private contributions and at no cost to residents—attracts those who live and work in Mansfield as well as tourists, and provides support not only for the anchor organizations but also for area restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses. The features of this project include:
- 15,000 square feet dedicated as the Renaissance Education Center, comprising Theatre 166 (a flexible performance space), classrooms, scenery workshops, a recording studio, artist guest rooms, education offices, and storage
- 30,000 square feet dedicated as the Little Buckeye Children’s Museum, comprising permanent and special exhibit areas, offices, activity rooms, a retail shop, and an outdoor play area
- Collaborative programming that combines youth audiences for regularly scheduled theatre events, special classes, summer camps, and school workshop productions
- Shared parking with 400 spaces available to Museum-goers during the day and Renaissance patrons in the evening
- A welcoming and open floor plan that invites children at the Museum to freely move to classrooms at the Renaissance Education Center for special programs
- Potential savings to both organizations realized through shared maintenance, back-of-the-house operations such as ticket sales, marketing, and volunteer coordination, and set/exhibit design
By the completion of both facilities in 2022, it is estimated the Imagination District will serve nearly 220,000 youth and their families, provide for as many as 15 full-time and 25 part-time staff, and have a total economic impact of $7.7 million (americansforthearts.org), proving the adage that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”