Arts News: 1850s Home Becoming State-of-the-Art Story Center

The historic Crouch family home, adjacent to the Woodneath Library Center, is undergoing a $3.4 million renovation to transform it into a state-of-the art home for the Library’s Story Center. (Mid-Continent Public Library)

An 1850s historic homestead in the Northland is soon to get a $3.4 million facelift — giving it a new lease on life and storytellers a unique place to create.

The Story Center was launched in 2013 with the opening of Woodneath Library, 8900 NE Flintlock Rd. The one-of-a-kind facility in the Mid-Continent Public Library system was constructed on a 33-acre property purchased from a family who had lived on it for more than four generations. The library was built adjacent to the historic home original to the land.

“The Story Center is designed to help people create stories, to share the stories and to connect with the stories of other people,” said Story Center Director Mark Livengood.

This is done by offering materials, resources, programming and options for showcasing print, oral and digital stories created at The Story Center. The aspiration is to build a nationally celebrated center which houses and inspires the art of the story.

That vision is coming to fruition, but space is currently at a premium.

Since opening, The Story Center’s resource collection of more than 1,000 books and magazines and the Espresso Book Machine, which can print a softcover book in seven minutes for a nominal fee, have occupied space among the rest of the library’s stacks. The Center’s staff has been squeezed into some spare office space. The popular speaker series, which brings in well-known authors in partnership with Rainy Day Books, either makes use of the Community Hall or sets up in the main library space. And the Storytelling Certificate Program, offered in partnership with MCC-Maple Woods, uses various community rooms in the library.

An artist’s rendering of the Crouch Family Reading Room in The Story Center. (Mid-Continent Public Library)

So, eyes have been set on the historic Woodneath home, just a step through a wooden door off the library’s café, which takes you back in time more than a century and a half to the grand staircases, ornate woodwork and abundance of fireplaces of the Victorian era.

From the time of the purchase of the property in 2008, the plan was for the Woodneath home to become an important part of the library’s operations. In fact, the Crouch family donated $300,000 from the sale of the property to go toward renovating it.

The civic-minded family wanted to see their property — which is on the city, county, state and national registry — used to serve and educate those who visit.

“We feel we can use (the entire property) as a place to educate future generations about what it used to be like here,” said Diana Reiter, development director for MCPL.

The home will provide program and exhibit space, a studio for recording stories, a reading room featuring the history of the property and the Crouch family, a conference room, office space for The Story Center staff and a home to the National Storytelling Network headquarters.

The $3.4 million renovation, which combines painstaking restoration of historic features with modern additions, has been funded by a variety of sources, including the Crouch family donation, a 2016 bond levy, contributions from the William T. Kemper Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation, the library’s operating budget, various fundraising events and a National Endowment of the Humanities Challenge grant that wrapped up July 31.

With the project more than 70 percent funded, work is underway on the exterior of the home with the expectation of it being completed this fall. If fundraising goals are met, MCPL hopes to celebrate the opening of the restored Woodneath home in early 2019.

“This is an important part of our mission enhancement program,” said Reiter. “We wanted to explore new ways to share stories . . . It’s our way to explore how libraries can serve people in new ways and still be library-appropriate.”

Upcoming Events

An Evening Beneath the Woods, a benefit event with live music, food and drink and a silent and live auction, will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 15. For more information and tickets: www.ahomeforyourstory.org/benefit.

A Campaign Celebration night of fun is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12. For more information: www.ahomeforyourstory.org/events.

Alexia Lang

Alexia Lang is a multimedia journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines, radio and blogs. She holds a journalism degree from UMKC and her Master’s work is in Leadership.

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