A new season of artistic offerings is in the works at the Alfresco Productions arts center in Granite City. Alfresco found a home in 2011 in the former First Baptist Church at 2014 Delmar Ave.
Arts center Alfresco Productions continues to paint Granite City in a creative light.
With a new season of musicals, plays and exhibitions in the works, founder and executive director Brenda Whitaker says she is excited about the center’s 2015.
As a former steelworker, she pays homage to the city’s industrial past in her art. She describes her upbringing in an “encouraging, artistic family.”
“My love of both the performing and visual arts is part nature and nurture,” Whitaker said. “I’ve been involved in community theater for over 30 years, not as a performer but in almost every other aspect.”
Later this year, the theme of art meeting industry will continue with Steamporium, a “steampunk” convention. Steampunk is a rapidly growing science-fiction fandom that draws inspiration from the steam-powered Victorian age and the works of authors such as H.G. Wells. The event will take place Sept. 26.
Alfresco Production’s roots were planted in 2009 when a celebration was planned for the children in the neighborhood of Whitaker’s Garden Gate Tea Room. The event, an outdoor, Wizard of Oz-themed Halloween party entitled “A Spooktacular Evening in Lincoln Place,” was chosen because of the subject’s popularity and because it would not be too frightening for children.
Because it took place outdoors, “Spooktacular” was presented as an “Alfresco Production,” and the door was opened for a full-force arts center.
That event led to other events such as The Melting Pot Market, a European-style open-air market, The Blue Collar Blues and BBQ Festival and The Six Mile Sculpture Works, an exhibition where artists from around the country come to Granite City to make iron and metal art using the same process as the steel industry this community is known for. All of these events were outdoors, further lending to the alfresco namesake. The success led to the formation of Alfresco Productions as an official business.
The new art enterprise found a home in 2011 in the former First Baptist Church at 2014 Delmar Ave.
“The stately structure had always been on my radar,” Whitaker said. “Even as a child, I was drawn to the grand staircase leading to the front door. I knew it had to be magnificent inside. I was told that the congregation would be making a decision as to the future of the building. While still beautiful, it was in need of much repair. The cost of maintaining it without necessary upgrades was more than the congregation could handle.”
Many repairs were performed on the 1921 building to get it operational for performances.
“There always is something to be done; Alfresco is certainly a work in progress,” Whitaker said.
A not-for-profit organization with a completely volunteer workforce, Alfresco’s logo is a tree made up of people (People are the roots of any great community, the organization says).
“The arts help create tourism and economic development,” Whitaker said. “When someone goes to a concert, theatrical performance or movie, they are spending additional money in restaurants and bars.”
Even beyond the positive financial impact, Whitaker says the arts encourage imagination and self-expression and cultivate creativity. In addition to the overwhelming support from the community, the production company has been critically recognized for its achievement in the arts, receiving four nominations for The Arts for Life Awards — Whitney Klee as best juvenile performer, Scott Tripp as lead male performer, Mark Lull as lead male performer and the production of “The Last Five Years” as best small ensemble of all musical productions.
“It proves that there’s a lot of great talent out there and we are tremendously proud to be a place to showcase them,” Whitaker said.
And 2015 proves to be no exception. In addition to its own performances, Alfresco rents to other theatrical companies such as Curtains Up. The troupe will present the classic jury drama “Twelve Angry Men” with auditions beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, at the art center.
Next up, “Greater Tuna” runs Feb. 20-22. The comedy play features two actors playing 20 characters who populate the tiny town of Tuna, Texas, including men, women, children and even animals.
Other upcoming productions this season include “Alice in Wonderland,” “Next to Normal,” “Nunsense,” “Avenue Q,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Addams Family” and “Nuncrackers.”
“The Alfresco Art Center shall always remain a not-for-profit, ensuring that there will be a home for the arts both now and for future generations,” Whitaker said. “It’s the goal of Alfresco to keep the arts alive.”
More information on upcoming events and auditions can be found at www.alfrescoproductions.org.