HANCOCK COUNTY — There is no doubt that the arts matter in Hancock County. In addition to attending dozens of public performances, festivals and fairs, art shows and fundraisers, the community rose – not once, but twice — to support facilities in Hancock County that house the arts and arts events.

Ten West moves forward

After 10 years of offering dance classes, taekwondo, art instruction, comedy nights, live music and theater productions, Ten West Center for the Arts in Fortville was in danger of closing. Executive director Paul Okerson, who had been financing 90 percent of the Center’s expenses, lost his job – and the center lost its funding.

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Okerson, along with his son Andrew, event coordinator for the center, assembled a fundraising team and reached out to the community for help. Help came. Grants came in from the Fortville Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses, and the center sold around $8,000 in memberships.

A year later, Ten West is holding its own presenting a summer musical and community events including the Zombie Prom, a father-daughter dance and a 9/11 tribute concert. Tenants have rented space for private music lessons. Willing Hands Designs has set up shop in the building to offer visual arts classes to children and adults. Celestial Martial Arts continue weekly taekwondo classes and a schedule of events for 2018 is in the works.

The younger Okerson reflects on the financial crisis: “Having the rug pulled out (from under us) is probably the best thing that could have happened. It has caused us to push harder by pursuing more sustainable revenue sources and has challenged the community to support the arts in Fortville.”

Ricks Centre’s future looks strong

In September, it looked as if another performing arts venue – the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts in downtown Greenfield – might also be in danger of closing its doors. After depending on funding from the county hotel tax since the facility opened in 2006, theater officials learned there was no funding for the theater in the county’s 2018 budget. Instead, the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which owns and operates the theater, was asked to pursue grant funding from the county’s tourism commission to keep the facility in operation.

The change prompted concerns among local arts groups that regularly use the Ricks for their performances. Supporters of the theater attended the October meeting of the tourism commission, where the HCVB requested money to cover the 2018 operating expenses for the theater. The tourism commission granted the $55,000 request but asked the HCVB to provide detailed reports in 2018 to show how the money is spent. Tourism commission members said requiring the theater to go through the grant process to receive funding will make use of tax dollars more transparent.

Fun, entertainment for a cause

Although Hancock County’s entertainment calendar for 2017 included festivals, live performances and holiday celebrations, not to be forgotten are the events for a cause. January’s Denim and Diamonds raised money for the Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy program; members of the Women’s Fund of Hancock County, a component fund of the Hancock County Community Foundation, hosted the Power of the Purse event to benefit programs of the Women’s Resource Center; Jerry Bell’s Fall That Jazz brought in money to make improvements to the Nameless Creek Youth Camp; proceeds from the Rotary Club’s annual Steak’n Bake’n provided support for Rotary’s many humanitarian projects throughout the year. These are just a few examples of many events that show Hancock County knows a worthy cause when it sees one.

Ricks Centre home to variety of performances during year

The Ricks Centre for the Arts was home to a variety of live performance and community events throughout 2017 with a concert from hometown musicians Kevin Stonerock, Gary West and Darry Hood. The Ricks-Weil Theatre Company, under the leadership of Beth Ray-Scott, presented “Annie” as a summer musical, followed by

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or cschaefer@greenfieldreporter.com.