A rendering of the new Able ARTS Work building at 3841 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls. Courtesy of Able ARTS Work.

In 40 years of operation, Able ARTS Work has never quite found the right home for its services—but the organization is working to finally change that.

The nonprofit, which provides art services to individuals with disabilities, purchased a new home this past spring at 3841 Atlantic Ave. for $2.5 million. Now, work is underway to turn the one-story, 7,000-square-foot building into the ideal space for the organization and its clients.

While the folks behind the organization previously announced that they hoped to begin renovation work in August, there have been some delays, primarily due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Able ARTS Work is looking to kick off the construction some time this month.

In the meantime, fundraising—which made the building’s purchase possible—continues.

Able ARTS Work’s CEO and founder Helen Dolas has planned a total of three fundraising rounds associated with the project. The first, which began in November 2020 and included a $1 million grant from the John Gogian Family Foundation, provided the money for a $1.25 million down payment, half the property’s price.

The second round, which is currently underway, seeks $1 million for renovations, but only $40,000 has been raised so far. The organization hopes to complete and move into its new building by April and hopes to complete fundraising by the end of the organization’s fiscal year on June 30, with the organization’s reserves covering the costs as the fundraising is underway.

The move comes after decades of relocations. Each site had its own challenges, though high rent often topped the list. According to Dolas, rent is the organization’s second-largest operating expense.

Able ARTS Work’s journey began, 40 years ago, in the Veterans Park Recreation Center. But the lack of amenities—Dolas was forced to keep her office in a janitor’s closet, for example—wasn’t sustainable.

So Dolas and her team purchased a new property at 10th Street and Locust Avenue in 1988. This time, neighborhood safety was a primary concern, particularly given the community Able ARTS Work serves: Research shows people with disabilities are significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than people without disabilities.

The nonprofit has since called two other buildings home, but rent has continued to be a challenge, along with the fact that these sites did not have the dedicated spaces for services that Dolas hoped to provide.

Now, Dolas is optimistic that none of those old challenges will be an issue at the Atlantic Avenue building. Bixby Knolls serves as a safe, arts-focused community—an ideal environment for Able ARTS Work. Features like an accessible stage area and administrative offices for Dolas and her team are among the planned renovations for the building.

The inclusion of a clinical area for children to promote early childhood intervention and a new technology lab where people can be taught about podcasting and video creation are some of the other amenities the building will offer.

“Everything in the building is going to tell a story of accessibility and inclusion,” Dolas said. The reason “everything is being chosen will have to do with the story behind it, whether it’s a floor covering or an accessible bathroom.”

And as Able ARTS Work owns the building, the organization is slated to save around $76,000 in rental costs annually.

But the nonprofit needs to complete its current fundraising round to turn those plans into a reality. Dolas said the organization is eyeing several prominent sources of funding to reach the $1 million mark, the largest of which is a community grant from Rep. Alan Lowenthal. Able ARTS Work has submitted a request to Lowenthal’s office for $980,000 from the 2023 cycle.

The organization is also looking at other opportunities, like a $125,000 grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation, as well as smaller private donations and contributions from community members or businesses.

As a perk for those who contribute, Able ARTS Work plans to install a donor wall in the finished building.

Once this round of fundraising has been completed, a third and final round will look to pay off the $1.25 million bank loan that was used to purchase the building, which Dolas said will likely take two-to-four years, once that phase begins.

It’s an ambitious, long-ranging plan, and the folks behind Able ARTS Work acknowledge there may be more delays beyond the pushed-back construction timeline. But contractor bids for the project are already out, and Dolas and her team believe the renovations can wrap up in March or April.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.