Museum backers say they need larger space to house work of famed sculptor
The team that had been planning to build a museum dedicated to the work of renowned local sculptor James Surls in the former Gordon Cooper library building in downtown Carbondale is abandoning its plans to use the library and searching for a larger Carbondale location.
Local philanthropist and Surls supporter Jim Calaway, who is leading the museum team, told the Carbondale Board of Trustees on Tuesday night that his group needed a bigger building to properly house some of Surls’ large-scale sculptures.
“As we worked with our architects, we came to the conclusion that we simply couldn’t do a good job of building a building that would house the great Surls art,” Callaway told the trustees.
He said the team is “100 percent dedicated to building in Carbondale,” but needs at least an acre of land to accommodate a large arts center, public gardens, parking and other amenities.
The town owns the library property, which was vacated last year when the Carbondale branch of the Garfield County Public Library moved into a new building at the corner of Third Street and Sopris Avenue.
Transforming the existing library into a building large enough to house Surls sculptural work had been expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. Surls and his supporters had pledged to raise that money.
“I can’t say that this isn’t disappointing, given the last year that we all spent together,” said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, referring to the museum planning process so far. “It’s not the news that we would like to hear, but I would like to see the Surls center in Carbondale.”
The withdrawal of the Surls group from the library space follows months of campaigning and letter writing from the Surls team and several other valley organizations that had been competing to take over the library space. The contest at times drew standing room only crowds to town trustee meetings, which are often sparsely attended.
The Family Enrichment Center and the Carbondale Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA) also made pitches to the town to occupy the library.
Peter Gilbert, who spearheaded the CAPA proposal, had pitched the idea of transforming the former library into a center for performing arts organizations, including studio and office space.
And a team of women representing the Family Enrichment Center had hoped to turn the library into a childcare facility with programs including pre-school, infant and toddler care, and after school programs for young children.
Yet the trustees decided in May to dedicate the building’s use to a museum housing Surls’ art.
Although the trustees were close to approving a 20-year lease for the museum in December, the project’s backers hadn’t yet signed the lease when they backed out Tuesday night.
The Carbondale trustees will discuss the future use of the library building at their next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21.