OutCentral continues to draw visitors, book events

After three months of operation, the OutCentral Cultural Center is on track to becoming the community hub that its founders envisioned, even as work continues to make the facility fully operational.

“It continues to grow every day,” said Jim Hawk, executive director. “In the last few days we’ve had several groups schedule meetings in here, people that we haven’t hosted before. People are continually finding out about us, liking what they see and using the space. We haven’t even begun our programming or having regular hours yet, and people are still coming in and having a good time.”

The center, located next door to OutLoud Bookstore at 1707 Church St., hopes to capitalize on its next-door neighbor’s longtime success in the community as it elevates its own profile.

As envisioned, the cultural center will welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex individuals and their friends and families into a positive, energy-filled environment. Its board of directors has stuck to that manifesto during the center’s formation, and will continue to do so now that it’s up and running, Hawk said, adding that having office and meeting space available for community groups to rent already has been a boon to many.

“People like the idea of being able to meet in an easy area to get to, and in an area they already know,” Hawk said. “A lot of groups had been meeting in less than idea locations, and they’re telling us that the space feels really good to them.”

Groups currently using the space for meetings include Nashville Pride, the Smoky Mountain Rodeo Association, Middle Tennessee Bear Alliance, TEP Foundation, the Conductors, the TVals' board of directors, the Experience Worship Church and the Stonewall Mission Church, Hawk said.

On the rental side, three of the five office spaces have been let, with Nashville Pride, Nashville In Harmony and the Experience Worship Church signing leases. The remaining two spaces should be occupied within the coming months, Hawk said, which is allowing OutCentral to meet its financial obligations above and beyond the subsidies it gets from neighbors OutLoud and Revive and their owners Ted Jensen and Kevin Medley. Jensen and Medley are not directly involved in the center but act as official sponsors and so contribute to the organization’s financial bottom line.

“We are paying what we owe each month, and we are doing that on a timely, regular basis, so we’re pleased with how our financial affairs are coming along,” Hawk said.

As buzz around the facility grows, Hawk said the next big thing for the board and staff will be to institute OutCentral’s own programming roster, which eventually will comprise events and activities on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

“The exciting thing about 2009 is that we won’t be just hosting existing organizations and groups, but we’ll be starting our own initiatives,” Hawk said. “We’re working on three groups in particular: a social support group for older adults, a group for the hearing-impaired and deaf community and a group for people who are trying to recover from narcotics addiction. But we’re a community-driven space, a grassroots-driven space, so there may be other needs that come up as well, and we’ll attempt to address them.”

While the visitorship and space requests have been growing, the volunteer base has lagged somewhat behind, so Hawk cautioned that any and all on-site programming would take its cue from the number of community members who step up to help out.

“We don’t have our maximum base built up, so we’re still working on that,” he said. “That’s making our programming take longer than we expected, but we think as more people come in and discover the space, we’ll get more people in to help us build our own efforts.”

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