Community / News / April 16, 2008

The Center of attention

The Center, located at 123 S. Cherry St. opened March 30, after eight months of volunteer backed construction and is already a daily hub of activity. Regular hours are from 11-1 and 4-6 every day. The Center’s objective is “connection through volunteerism, community building and empowerment,” and is a merging of the labors of many long-time Galesburg residents and Knox community members.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2007, 35 current and former students contributed 230 hours of work. Eight faculty and staff members donated 160 hours and 16 community members assisted during these critical stages of preparation.

“The Center is, put simply, a space for people to use for activities they want to do. The key is that all events must be free — no admissions fees can be charged,” said Peter Schwartzman, environmental studies professor and founder of The Center.

Admission may be free, but hosting events, naturally, incurs expenses. The Center is therefore grateful to accept any donations of cash or objects. All furniture is donated, along with an increasing assortment of books, CDs, and DVDs. An “items wanted” list can also be found online at

“At the Center different groups in Galesburg are able to come together and recognize that they have common interests,” Schwartzman said.

For instance, while some have perceived a certain degree of separation between Knox and the general Galesburg community, The Center aims to help tear down that partition, and at the same time offer a free and easily accessible location for all forms of presentation, discussion, debate, and, ultimately, communal growth.

“We did not create The Center to replace anything already in existence. It is just another place where things can happen,” Schwartzman said.

Behind its walls, The Center has many faces — it is both a setting for children’s game nights, and a haven for discussion of political issues. It is the focal point for Quiet Zone supporters, who are fighting to quiet train whistles in Galesburg, a women’s issues group, a book club, and Sunday morning yoga classes.

The Center has also hosted film showings and local history events, allowing Galesburg residents to embrace their artistic and cultural heritage. One such event highlighted local artist Dorothea Tanning. Another presentation was offered on puritan brickyards and yet another to provide answers to those wondering how Galesburg streets received their names. All of these experiences were free of charge.

Yet one rule, which is paramount to use of the facility, is that no one meeting at The Center may discriminate in any way against anyone else or bar entry to individuals. Events must be open to all who wish to participate, including those who may disagree with the opinions of those hosting the event.

Furthermore, if, by any chance, two groups wish to reserve use of The Center during the same time slot, the privilege is given to the group, which is more limited in their resources. The Center will always support local initiatives above that of broader, highly funded organizations, which could easily convene elsewhere.

“We strongly support, for example, initiatives such as local food production. We wouldn’t want Wal-Mart to come and advertise their merchandise when they have a million-dollar budgeting campaign…unless they decide to showcase locally grown pumpkins…then they would be welcome,” said Schwartzman.

When asked about the governing structure behind The Center, Schwartzman said, “We firmly believe we have to avoid hierarchical institutions.”

In keeping with this philosophy, The Center meetings operate as fully as possible on the principle of consensus, not on the decision-making status of specific members.

Senior Matt Hibbs who volunteers in order to fulfill his experiential learning requirement at The Center said, “I think it’s great. It’s a heck of a place,” but he also pointed out, “Not all that many people know about it yet. We need to continue to get the word out.”

Echoing some of Schwartzman’s sentiments, Hibbs said, “The response has been more than anyone could have anticipated at this point, but we could still benefit from more Knox involvement, particularly on the level of the faculty.”

“The community response has been especially welcoming,” said fellow volunteer and senior Christine Harris. “I will be graduating this year, so I won’t get to see it, but next fall I really hope more Knox students will choose to become involved at The Center.”

Deanna Wendel

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