Bowlus still the jewel in Iola’s crown



September 25, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Just like a mama who can’t believe her little boy is now a man, it’s hard to believe the Bowlus Fine Arts Center is 50 years old. Where did the years go? And my, look how it’s changed.
The Center is now a mature building, going on its second generation of furnishings and mechanisms — a boiler, rigging, curtains, upholstery, doors, floors, lighting and sound systems, have all been replaced over the last several years.
Benefactors have seen the Bowlus remains the jewel in Iola’s crown.
It all began with a most generous donation by Thomas H. Bowlus, including his home site.
The massive structure was built for $1.2 million, leaving $800,000 to be used for its operations.
Until needed repairs became evident, the Bowlus operated on a minimal budget. The school district then upped its contribution for use of the center. And the Friends of the Bowlus came into being to build an endowment to go toward the building’s upkeep.
Probably the best thing about the Bowlus is how it brings us together as a community. We know how incredibly lucky Iola is to have such a facility.
Which is why the current debate over whether Iola should have new schools, has Bowlus supporters concerned a campus north of town would mean the end of classes at the Center.
Both the Bowlus and the school district benefit from the relationship.
The Center relies on the district’s funding to keep it afloat. And the district realizes the Center offers a unique learning environment for students.
So it should come as no surprise school officials and board of education members have figured how to keep the Bowlus an integral part of students’ educations with a new and different arts-based curriculum, which, by the way, has the full support of Susan Raines, Bowlus director.
As Raines explains, Mr. Bowlus’ interpretation of the arts was what was current 50 years ago — the standard art, music and band classes. What we now consider traditional, was state-of-the-art for Mr. Bowlus.
Today’s fine arts rely heavily on technology.
“Technology has taken over the world of theater,” Raines said. “It’s like the difference between a rotary phone and a cell phone.”
Raines said she is excited about what the new curriculum could mean for the future of the Bowlus and how a focus on state-of-the-art technology could be a big draw to area students.
Just as Tom Bowlus pictured 50 years ago.

TO GROW old gracefully, you accept change.
— Susan Lynn

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