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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 6, 200212:00 PM EST

Karpeles Museum planning some changes

by: Monica Chamness

by Monica Chamness

Staff Writer

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is undergoing a few changes.

In August, Leigh Rodante was named the new curator. Three weeks ago, she was promoted to assistant director. Cheryl Alleman (aka Sprinkles the Clown) resumed her post as director and a museum assistant has been added.

Part of Rodante’s job will be to increase fundraising efforts for the non-profit organization. Rodante plans a campaign of networking and collaborating with others in the local arts community. Her charge is “renovating and building up business by increasing activities downstairs in the children’s museum.”

A causality of layoffs at her former employer, Rodante was intrigued by cultural affairs, so she joined the Karpeles management team.

She is also an art teacher at The Sanctuary of Northeast Florida (formerly Urban Ministries) and Hogan Spring Glen Elementary as part of the Cathedral Arts Program.

“They’re places that don’t have art teachers or have children with needs that the arts community could help out to improve their lifestyle,” she said.

Personnel changes aren’t the only happenings at the library. Repairs and modifications to the Springfield building, which was built in 1921 as a church, are also in the works.

To receive grant money for the improvements, Rodante must submit a bid to the Cultural Council. The maximum allotment to the museum community as a whole is $700,000.

“We are trying to get the building back to a restored state,” said Rodante.

Peeling paint, trespassing vagrants and flooding prompted the renovations. As a security precaution to deter transients, a fence will be installed around the perimeter. Wheelchair ramps, electrical upgrades, bathroom repairs and a flood wall are other capital expenditures.

“Cheryl’s idea is to make it more aesthetically pleasing,” said Rodante.

Downstairs in the children’s museum, play rooms will be expanded and the facility for birthday parties will be reworked. A bounce house is being donated by a party rental shop. For children on field trips, a picnic area is being added.

David Karpeles founded the Jacksonville museum and the six other museums in the United States to showcase manuscripts he has collected. Numbering over 1 million, it is the world’s largest collection and rotates through the libraries every two months.

“He still collects them at auctions,” said Rodante. “People know what he offers so they donate stuff to him because it’s free for the public. He appraises them, preserves them and distributes them.”

All the museums are located in what are considered to be culturally-deprived areas.

“Jacksonville is just starting to become culturally-involved,” explained Rodante. “The art community is starting to emerge and we would like to be on top of that. Hopefully with all the downtown construction and high rises, it will bring more business out to Springfield and make it more of a thriving community.”

Children’s art classes will be offered in the future and a summer art camp focusing on music may be offered too.

Unlike the other museums in the Karpeles chain, the Springfield location offers something more than just manuscripts.

In conjunction with neighboring cultural groups such as Springfield Preservation and Restoration, Karpeles plans activities management believes will be of interest to the community.

This month a discussion of black history is scheduled, and in March, the Karpeles will team with the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens to present works of the visually-impaired. The “Art From Her Heart” exhibition is part of the Cummer’s program to allow women to use art in a therapeutic way.

Poetry readings, performing and visual arts are some of the other offerings.

“Cheryl and I decide on the events,” said Rodante. “We rent out the building for functions like weddings and art shows. We work closely with SPAR to schedule things here. They are trying to promote upcoming artists. We allow them [the artists] to hang their work for two months at no charge and have an opening reception. It’s a great opportunity for aspiring artists to show their work.”

Ellen McAnany, former gallery director at Reddi-Arts, volunteers to assist in decisions on artists who want to show their work at the museum. Now the director of Artist Advocate, McAnany “discovers” artists who lack exposure.

“They [artists] come to her to get profiles made or get advice on press releases,” explained Rodante. “I go to galleries and art shows. If I see an artist that I think has talent, she will go to look at the work.”

Ideas on other events often come from the public.

For example, a psychic approached the museum to hold a spiritual reading there. It was held last month.

“We would like the public to know that if they have something to offer, they can do it here,” said Rodante. “It’s a great place to put on a small play. The acoustics in this building are phenomenal. You can hear a stick pin drop in the balcony from the stage.”

Karpeles has also shifted its hours to coordinate with the hours of the children’s museum. Both will be open Tuesday through Saturday at 10 a.m. The children’s portion will close at 1 p.m. with the manuscript museum remaining open until 3 p.m.

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