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Homes for people and the arts: Wheaton’s Arts and Cultural Center gets more support

Dave Kennedy, owner of Rec Mode Fitness and Boxing, (Ƶapp/Kate Ryan)
An artist’s piece outside the The Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center. (Ƶapp/Kate Ryan)
Regional library manager Dianne Whitaker. (Ƶapp/Kate Ryan)
Science fiction? Mysteries? The Wheaton library has you covered — book covered. (Ƶapp/Kate Ryan)
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Ask Montgomery County Council member Natali Fani-Gonzalez about Maryland’s Wheaton area, and she’ll offer tips on where to shop, where to find the best empanadas, and where to go to meet the people who make it a welcoming community.

Fani-Gonzalez is proud of the diversity in her community. “It’s like the United Nations, you can find people from every single background in Wheaton.”

A visit to the small businesses that radiate off University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue bears that out.

There are Asian markets, Indian restaurants, and languages from Vietnamese to Portuguese can be overheard walking along the sidewalks.

“Everything that you can imagine, we have it,” Fani-Gonzalez told Ƶapp in a recent interview.

But there is one thing Wheaton doesn’t have — yet.

The Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center — a project that combines 320 multifamily units in two buildings, 39 townhomes, office space and an arts and cultural center — has been proposed, with construction beginning in fiscal year 2027.

The county council’s education and culture committee nudged the project ahead with a vote Thursday to send a funding proposal for $23.6 million for FY25 to the full council for consideration.

Residents react

Small businesses in Wheaton, like those in other parts of the county who have weathered the pandemic and an uptick in crime, are excited by the proposed development.

Dave Kennedy, owner of Rec Mode Fitness and Boxing, does a lot of work with young kids in the community. He said they may come in for a workout and fitness training, but often share their other interests, like writing poetry or drawing.

The arts are “huge,” Kennedy said.

“Because the kids talk about it and come and show me” what they’ve written or drawn, Kennedy said he tells them, “I write poems,” and they often ask with surprise: “You write poems, coach?”

Kennedy said the proposed center could help young people see themselves reflected in the arts and encourage them to pursue visual or performing arts, either as a recreational outlet or a career.

At the Wheaton Library — which also houses the Kefa Café and a county recreation center — regional library manager Dianne Whitaker said the proposed arts and cultural center is “going to give more space for performing arts and visual arts in the community,” and it will add to the overall cultural richness of Wheaton.

Just as the library is “not just about books, it’s a meeting place,” said Whitaker, the arts and cultural center could serve as another community hub where people of all backgrounds gather.

Next step for the project: an April 23 town hall meeting for the public.

Construction is planned to start in the fall of 2025.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning Ƶapp News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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