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Historic Marshalltown community center, art collection making renewed debut, planning for impact locally and beyond

The 63-year-old Fisher Community Center is reaching a milestone as renovation, restoration and opportunity come its way.


After surviving a theft, a tornado and a derecho, the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown is coming out the other side with a new look, a new name and a new purpose.

The building, built in 1958 by local businessman Bill Fisher and home to the Fisher Art Collection, has its share of tales to tell. The stealing of a Claude Monet painting in 1987 resulted in the addition of a separate art gallery and more security measures.

By the mid-2010s, plans to restore the art collection and give the building needed renovations were underway. 

The collection of 39 impressionist and post-impressionist artworks includes paintings and works on paper by Henri Matisse, Camille Pissaro and Mary Cassat, among other artists. The Conservation Center in Chicago, the largest private art conservation laboratory in the country, was hired and brought to Marshalltown in July 2018 to appraise the restoration costs; the pieces displayed throughout the building rather than in the climate-controlled gallery needed the most work. 

Had the restoration team come a day later, the appraisal wouldn’t have been possible. The EF3 tornado that swept through Marshalltown devastated much of the community but happened to spare the facility and the art collection.

The 2020 derecho was less forgiving. Trees punched holes in the roof of the community center, letting in water that sat for days and led to mold. 

But in a stroke of good fortune, the art escaped disaster again as it had been taken to Chicago for restoration a month earlier. Still, the extensive structural damage meant starting the building renovations earlier than planned. 

In spite of tumult over the center’s 63 years, project manager Karn Gregoire said with renewed vigor and support for its future, it symbolizes that “more than ever, Marshalltown is coming back.”

“There’s been deliberate taglines and movement that said, OK, we’ve been knocked down, but we’re going to come back way stronger and better, and we’re going to take this as an opportunity to make Marshalltown something pretty spectacular,” Gregoire said.

The $6 million renovation is spectacular in scale, as the entire space will be updated. The roof was replaced after the derecho, and $500,000 has been spent on asbestos removal. Also planned is the addition of a full-size catering kitchen, improvements to the auditorium and a complete renovation of the newly renamed Martha Ellen Tye Playhouse.

But the renovation is all in preparation for larger plans for the center’s role in Marshalltown’s community and economy. 

The facility, to be renamed the Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center, or MACC, is intended to be multipurpose — part space for community and businesses, part art gallery and part civic center.

Four tenants will be housed at the MACC, including three key funders of the project: the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation, the Marshall County Community Foundation and United Way of Marshall County.

Gregoire, who is also president of the MACC board of trustees, said having all of their services available in the same space fosters collaboration between them. For example, if one organization cannot help an individual, another one may be able to.

The fourth tenant is the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance, which will help cement the center’s role in the local arts scene.

“There are several potential opportunities for the Alliance to best serve the community with its future at the MACC. The Alliance is in the process of leading an Arts & Culture Master Plan to gain robust input from a diverse set of community stakeholders and residents,” Executive Director Amber Danielson said in an email interview.

With five community rooms that will be available to reserve as well as the auditorium, space at the MACC is abundant and ready to welcome businesses and community groups. 

Local partners Mechdyne and Racom are providing services during the renovation, and Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce CEO and President John Hall said he expects the business community will rally around the facility when it’s completed as well.

“The benefit to the business community is beyond just their immediate return on investment. It is the value that having a facility like this has for the community, not only from the tourism side, but from the attraction of workforce and talent to the community,” Hall said.

Gregoire said the rarity of the Fisher Art Collection will complement the business opportunities at the MACC, attracting and surprising those who are in town for business or simply visiting Marshalltown.

Hall said the MACC also presents “an incredible opportunity that we don’t currently have” — a space for Marshalltown to host larger conferences or events. As the MACC gets up and operating in 2022, the chamber will evaluate whether other supporting investments like a hotel or more event space make sense down the road.

With the MACC being a symbol of Marshalltown’s future, it is also a reminder of what it will leave behind. 

“The perception when you’re outside of Marshalltown is such that Marshalltown is not this really thriving beautiful community, it’s more of this midmarket, backwards kind of town. But the reality is so much different on the ground,” Hall said. “I think the investment into this facility and the exhibition of the art galleries give us a real opportunity in the tourism space to retell that story for Marshalltown to help really move the needle on what Marshalltown is perceived to be, in ways that haven’t been done in a very long time.”

After seeing little marketing in the community over the years, the MACC will have a full-time director on staff to help maintain the facility and promote its position in the area. 

Since forming in 2017, Gregoire said the MACC board of trustees has been responsible for the progress made on fundraising, renovations and overall advancement of the community center.

“This project is successfully moving forward because God has blessed us with an incredible board of trustees. This group of dedicated volunteers see the vision, understand the impact it will have on our community, and are devoting countless hours to bring it to fruition,” she said. 

In 2019, local foundations, businesses and individuals raised $200,000 for the restoration of 35 pieces of the art collection, which concluded in July. The first $3 million allocated to renovations came from a contribution from the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation and an insurance payout from the derecho damage. 

With about one year to go until the reopening, a committee is currently working to raise the remaining $3 million still needed to complete renovations of the facility and the future Martha-Ellen Tye Playhouse. To learn more about the project, contact Karn Gregoire at karn@maccia.org.

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