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Oak Openings building has future with Adrian church

By
JACKIE KOCH

When Clinton Arts Center founder Ruth Knoll embarked on a plan to create a community arts center in downtown Clinton, she had dreams of bringing people together, of highlighting the cozy village, and of bringing others from far and wide to appreciate the arts. Opened in June 2018, Oak Openings, the impressive structure that housed the Clinton Arts Center, Twelve Restaurant and Gallery Twelve has waited for a new owner to give it a fresh start since closing last September. Now Bethany Assembly of God Church is poised to do just that.

“Originally we had this whole plan,” said Bethany Assembly’s lead pastor, Brian Henley. “It’s crazy how all the things that we had planned changed so quickly.” Around the time Twelve Restaurant was closing, he was introduced to Knoll and the two discussed what they wanted to do for the community. The church had long wanted to be involved in Clinton, with a strategy to help provide services such as food programs, partner with other organizations, and promote the arts.

He said Knoll looked in the Bethany organization and its 75-year history and financial stability. Representatives from the church met with Clinton Arts Center board members, as well. “So from that they saw us as a great option to continue the legacy that Ruth really had started off, of seeing the arts and seeing a place for the community,” Henley said. “The whole concept of Oak Openings was this idea of an opening in the oaks where they would gather together, so why not create a space where the community can continue to gather together?”

When the building first opened, Knoll said the inspiration for the Oak Openings name came from this area’s long-ago openings in the wooded terrain of the Sauk Trail, where travelers would stop and gather. “It’s just such a perfect description of what we’re trying to do here, which is to get people to come together in a gathering space,” she said.

The transfer of the multimillion-dollar property, a donation from the Clinton Arts Center to Bethany Assembly, took place around the end of March or beginning of April, right when the pandemic began taking off.

Henley has researched and visited co-creating spaces in Detroit and various models of providing spaces for small business start-ups, with an eye toward offering the same type of spaces at Oak Openings. “We were excited about the opportunity and being able to be in there, and then COVID hit, which really has caused a pause for us,” he said. While the church’s plans are temporarily on hold, the goal is not, however. “Our heart is that this is something for the community that just happens to have a church meeting inside of it maybe one day,” said Henley.

The purpose is to create a place of unity where people from different walks of life and different outlooks can come together and have honest conversations, said the pastor.

“I love Ruth’s heart, and one of the things I can say about Ruth is she really does love the community,” he said. “I think that’s part of the reason why she said, ‘Hey, I want to see this legacy continue to go on.’” He said that in Biblical terms, there are some people who sow seeds, and some who water and harvest. “In many ways I feel like Ruth was the one who planted the seed, and then others came along with vision and passion and began watering it. And then it seemed like maybe that seed was potentially dying, and yet what happened is that others gathered around,” Henley said.

He believes there are better days ahead. “I really believe that it’s time for us to dream again, and that’s what this building is about, it’s about dreaming again, providing a place for people to dream these dreams and to see themselves being supported in a community,” he said. The plan to collaborate with others, such as art organizations and more, is an extension of what Knoll started.

“She built an amazing building. I think there’s a great legacy, and we want to continue to see that legacy impact Clinton and the surrounding areas as well,” said Henley.

To learn more or inquire about partnerships, email Bethany Assembly of God at contact@bethanyassembly.com.

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