The last time Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis stepped foot in the Wright Center was during his childhood. The building was called the Buckeye Candy and Tobacco Building and he was there to buy a large box of M&Ms. On Thursday, Feb. 9, Mavis returned to 400 South Main Street in Mount Vernon — this time, to speak at the Wright Center dedication ceremony hosted by Kenyon and attended by hundreds of community members, students, faculty and administrators.
The first floor of the Wright Center houses the headquarters of Science and Play Intersect (SPI), a local nonprofit that introduces children to scientific concepts through games, as well as the Office for Community Partnerships, whose purpose is to coordinate collaboration between Knox County and the College. The second and third floors are largely dedicated to the Kenyon film department and include a studio control room, three editing rooms, a recording studio, a screening room, a seminar room and an office for the film studio manager. The film department’s spaces overflow with new pieces of technology: TVs, iMacs, microphones and more.
The College announced plans to purchase the building in February 2015 and the Board of Trustees approved the purchase in April. The renovation cost approximately $6 million and was largely funded by the Ariel Foundation, which is dedicated to revitalizing downtown Mount Vernon. Karen Wright, the founder of the Foundation, and her family are the namesake of the Center. The Foundation is connected with the Ariel Corporation, a manufacturer of separable reciprocating gas compressors, in Mount Vernon.
This is the first time the five-year-old Kenyon film department has had a space of its own.
“On campus, the film department doesn’t have a set of classrooms devoted just to film,” film major Isabel Landers ’18 said. “I’ve had film classes in Tomsich, the Community [Foundation] Theater … even the film professors’ offices are in the same space as the drama department.” The new building has spaces for both teaching and producing films.
Associate Professor of Film Jonathan Sherman expressed his hope that this will mark a new era for the film department. “Our next goal is to make Kenyon’s a top-10 film program in the country, and I feel like this facility goes a long way to us achieving that goal,” Sherman said.
The ceremony speakers included President Sean Decatur, Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell ’84, Executive Director of SPI Rachel Garcia, Sherman and Wright.
“For almost the entire history of Kenyon, it’s been sort of that town and gown thing where Kenyon didn’t really interact much with the Mount Vernon that felt like it was 100 miles away, even though it’s four,” Wright said in an interview with the Collegian. “I think this will give Kenyon students an opportunity to see what a nice Ohio town is like and what the people are like here and maybe have an appreciation for that.”
During the ceremony, Decatur presented Wright with a miniature model of the Center to thank her for her contribution.
“This is an opportunity for us to connect with the Mount Vernon and Knox County community in different ways,” Decatur said in an interview with the Collegian. “Certainly, we’re envisioning formal and informal events that can happen at the Wright Center. Whether it’s student groups or classes that have partnerships with organizations in the community — this will be the space for those to meet and gather. This will help Kenyon’s efforts to be more of a presence, a civic partner, in the community.”
After the speeches, attendees roamed the hallways, enjoying hors-d’oeuvres and champagne. Knox County resident Michael Hawk said he is excited about the Wright Center because it will allow him to interact with the Kenyon community more closely. Though he has taken his children to Kenyon’s campus before, he has not had opportunities to form connections with students off campus.
Kenyon’s Wright Center joins Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Buchwald Center and Central Ohio Technical College’s Ariel Hall to form an education corridor on South Main Street, according to the Knoxpages.com article “Kenyon’s Wright Center Dedicated in Downtown Mount Vernon,” dated Feb. 10.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that in a county with 60,000 people, and the city of Mount Vernon with 16,000 people, that we have three colleges and universities in downtown Mount Vernon,” said donor and Knox County businessman Mark Ramser, who was involved in the Buchwald Center and Ariel Hall projects as well as the Wright Center. “That was my long-term goal, to get some type of physical presence from all three colleges and universities down here. There’s some vibrancy that comes with college students.”