JOSEPH — Now that its building has been purchased, plans are underway to improve and expand the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph.

On Wednesday, June 23, Executive Director Cheryl Coughlan and Board of Directors President Jeff Costello signed the paperwork to purchase the building at 403 N. Main St. in Joseph, realizing the center’s long-awaited goal for the sustainability of the organization.

“The dream of becoming a permanent home for arts and culture in Wallowa County is now a reality,” Coughlan said in a press release. “But like every homeowner knows, the work is really just beginning. There’s a long list of repairs and renovations needed to make the building safe and accessible for every person who walks through the doors.”

To get those repairs and renovations started, the Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, a private foundation that funds programs for children, families and communities in rural Oregon, granted the Josephy Center $230,000. The grant will cover the cost of an elevator that allows access to the second floor, wheelchair ramps, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms, emergency exit doors, an indoor sprinkler system, floor repair and more.

“We are so lucky to have the support of the Ford Family Foundation,” Development Director Kellee Sheehy said in the release. “They have supported us from the beginning and have helped us grow many of our youth programs. Now they are also one of the biggest funders of our capital campaign. We are so grateful.”

Renovation phases

The capital campaign is phased: Phase One focuses on the building purchase, critical safety repairs and accessibility for all. Phase Two focuses on the renovation and expansion of the building, which will increase functionality, accessibility and programming.

In an interview Wednesday, June 30, Coughlan provided more details.

In addition to the purchase of the building, she said there are repairs to the log building’s façade that are needed, including rusted facia and water damage to logs that need to be replaced. She said the sides of the building that face the sun — all but the north side — will need new chinking and the building needs a new coat of stain.

One of the first jobs will be to remove the deck outside her office on the second floor. It was installed when a restaurant occupied the building during a previous life and diners were seated out there. However, the deck has now become rickety and dangerous. It will be replaced with a stairway and an emergency exit.

Phase Two will cover the sprinklers, audio equipment for the hard of hearing and expanding the building.

“We’ll be able to expand the building going south. We’ll put in a ceramics studio, as well as a multipurpose space for movement, tech classes, dance, music practice, a rental space, as well as possibly bringing our printing press that we have in the basement upstairs,” Coughlan said. “It will almost double the size of this building.”

The entrance to the center also will be changed from its current south-side location to the north side. Across Alder Street from the new entrance is land the center owns that will be used for parking, Coughlan said.

She said construction work is expected to start this month or next, although contractors’ schedules will affect just how soon work can get done. She’s hoping vital repair work can be completed before winter.

She said the center plans to keep the public informed of progress on the changes.

“We’re shooting for very big event during the Wallowa Valley Arts Festival, that would be Sept. 18,” she said. “At that point, we might have a much better idea as to what the expansion’s going to look like and we’ll know how much it’ll cost and how much money we’ll need to raise.”

Building’s background

Coughlan gave a brief history of the center’s building. She said it originally was a bank, then went through several occupancies, including a restaurant, a hair salon, a place where rummage sales could be held and then it sat vacant for several years.

It was purchased from Anne and Bradford Stephens, who were instrumental in getting the center going.

“It was mostly Anne, who was very devoted to the arts,” Coughlan said. “She was part of a group of people who, a couple years before buying the building, said they wanted to start an arts center.”

They found the current building for sale in early 2012 and were able to get it for a good price.

“At the very beginning, we promised we would buy it back from her,” Coughlan said. “But there were many, many repairs that needed to be taken care of.”

The center was opened in late 2012, after the repairs were completed and the center obtained its nonprofit status. Coughlan came aboard as executive director in September 2013.

Early on, the center also became the home to the Alvin M. and Betty Josephy Library of Western History with Rich Wandschneider as director. It had been housed in the basement of Fishtrap’s building in Enterprise and all concerned believed the move would be beneficial.

“This was a good move for the library,” Coughlan said, “because Alvin had a background in art as well as culture.”

At first, it was just just her and Wandschneider and about 50 volunteers. She was doing a lot of it with his help.

The center now

“Slowly but surely, we were able to hire art teachers and a person who could manage the volunteers, we started an art shop,” she said. “Basically, I was doing everything up until a few years ago when people came in and relieved me of some of my several tasks. Now, what I’m doing is overseeing the programs and staff.”

The center now has seven paid staff and three interns.

The interns, mostly high school and college students, “help in the classrooms, they help in the gallery, they do a lot of what the volunteers couldn’t do during COVID,” Coughlan said. “We have one person who does all of the education and youth programming and we also have someone doing all of the exhibits and we have one person who’s doing all of our technical needs and creating our systems. We also have a development director who writes all the grants — and that’s Kellee Sheehy — and then Rich, who’s the library director. He does a lot of special programs.”

He managed the process of getting bronze sculptures out front done. He’s also working on a film about places relating to Nez Perce in the county.

Coughlan said it cost the center’s board $450,000 to purchase the building, but they had to raise $575,000 to help cover the cost of repairs and expansion. Those fundraising efforts netted nearly $600,000, she said.

Coughlan said community support has been instrumental in the progress the center has made.

“Who knew this would ation when we were going through a pandemic?” she said. “We’re very grateful.”

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