Volunteers are the key to success at the Prairie Arts Center

A building that once served as a federal building, is now a destination for art and art education.

"I can tell you that I know it's important, because of the response we've received from the community," Prairie Arts Center Board Member Judy Thompson said. The building has served many roles through the years. It started out as a federal building in 1913. It was also home to the post office, and courthouses. Decades later, it became the location for North Platte Community College. When the school moved, the building sat vacant for several years. That's when the "Creativity Unlimited Arts Council" stepped in. "We were given the offer to purchase the building for $10,000 if we raised $250,000 in six months," Prairie Arts Center Board Member Wava Best said. "We were able to do that."

The city turned the building over to the group in 2008. It was in rough shape, but volunteers set out to transform it. "We decided to start in the studio level, which is the basement level," Best said. In the basement, you'll find areas where artists can produce pottery and sculpture. The basement was completed in 2013. The first floor gallery was completed in 2015. In the gallery, there is space for local, state and even international artists to show their work. "We have a wonderful little gift shop that highlights local talent on the first floor as well," Best said.

The Prairie Arts Center is not only a place where people can show their art or learn about art. It's also becoming a destination for people who want to have wedding receptions or other big events. "Since we are a non-profit, we had to have an area that we could possibly rent out and keep the building going," Best said. "So we have a reception room, a textile gallery, a catering kitchen and a library on the second floor and we opened that in 2017."

Now, the last stage of the project, the third floor, is poised to be completed by the end of this year. It will feature classrooms, and a Ted Long legacy room. "Ted Long is an internationally known western artist," Best said. "He was very involved with NebraskaLand Days and the Governor's Art Show. He had worked all over the country, he did sculptures also."

All told, the cost of the entire project will be more than $3 Million. But through grants, fundraisers, pledges, income from events, the project remains in the black. And it's volunteers that may be the key to it all. "It's saved us so much money," Thompson said. "On every floor, it has increased what the volunteers have been doing, and volunteers have found their niche saying, I can do that, I can do that, I can do that."

As the Prairie Arts Center now enters the final stretch of renovation, board members are glad to see the building do what they wanted it to do all along, and that's become a destination for arts education. "These four words sum up what happens here: create, educate, collaborate, and celebrate. I think all of those things happen in this building at one time or another," Thompson said.