Historic Properties Commission approves changes to new Humanities Hub

Published 10:57 am Monday, April 22, 2024

By Emma Greene

Oxford’s Courthouse Square Historic Properties Commission approved minor changes to the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council’s new Humanities Hub at their meeting on April 1.

Changes included lowering the roofline by one foot to match that of the Powerhouse and the removal of
multicolored sun shades.

Email newsletter signup

Wayne Andrews, director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, says the hub will serve as an “incubator space” for creatives in North Mississippi, providing the tools necessary for transplant entrepreneurs and artists to launch small businesses, create art, and even stay the night.

The Humanities Hub will take the place of the large storage shed currently found in front of the Powerhouse. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council served 223,000 artists and patrons in 2023. The Humanities Hub will increase the council’s ability to provide to the North Mississippi community, with more programming and event availability.

Due to rising residential and commercial rent prices within the Oxford community, it is often difficult for creatives to find spaces where they can meet and collaborate. Amenities at the hub will relieve some of this struggle with larger meeting spaces and studios, two small theaters, a coworking space, and three residency apartments.

The Powerhouse hosts everything from wedding receptions to summer camps, theatrical productions and film showings, all of which will have more space to breathe and grow when construction is complete.

Local artist and educator Andi Bedsworth organizes and teaches 11 weeks of summer camps to local children. She says she and the Powerhouse have a “love-hate relationship,” as the logistics of the space require her to set up and put away her Powerhouse classroom space each week to allow for other events to take place.

“It’s a real tricky space,” Bedsworth said. “I’m in my fifties now, so it’s getting harder, just the manual labor of pushing carts around, setting up and taking down.”

Bedsworth says the arts council has also made sacrifices to accommodate her summer camps, including allowing children to use staff bathrooms. “We take up every inch of the space,” she said. “I mean, the kids nap in the theater. It’s a compromise on all sides.”

Antonio Tarrell, filmmaker and Oxford Film Festival board member, works between Oxford, Bruce, Mississippi, and Little Rock, Arkansas. Residential space in the hub will alleviate some of his and fellow filmmakers’ hotel and travel costs, as they frequently travel to collaborate on film projects.

Their shared film equipment is currently confined to a small closet, but the new space will allow them more storage space, computers, and the internet, making the collaborative filmmaking process easier.

“Having that building — that is just going to make Oxford 10 times better,” Tarrell said.

Because the Powerhouse is a publicly owned historic building, the addition falls under the local Historic Properties Commission’s jurisdiction despite being located away from the Square.

According to Stuart Povall, chairman of the Courthouse Square Historic Properties Commission, additions to historic buildings “should be clearly discernible from the historic portion of the building and should be designed, in a way, to be “of its time.” “In other words,” he said, “not try and mimic historic aesthetics.”

Such additions also require approval from the Mississippi Secretary of the Interiors Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, which recommended the changes approved locally on April 1.

Original plans for the Humanities Hub were approved in June 2023 following an extensive visioning study completed by the arts council. The commission expressed great enthusiasm for the improvements.

“They’re small, but I think these are great improvements,” said Laurie Beth Ellis, commission member.

Construction on the building will not begin until the arts council raises $750,000 to match that they received from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Community donations