More than a decade in the making, and after more than a year of construction delays, the $66.5 million Tempe Center for the Arts opens next weekend.
And Sandra Tignor, for one, couldn’t be happier.
“I think it’s absolutely spectacular,” says Tignor during a recent tour of the center, her third visit so far.
http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/flash?h=555&w=800&file=tca%2Ftca.swf',800,650)" class="content-link">MULTIMEDIA: Experience Tempe Center for the Arts
A performing arts lover who volunteers at nearby Gammage Auditorium, she and hundreds of others have signed up to do the same at the new venue, the latest entry in an explosion of arts centers across the East Valley in recent years.
Surveying the Tempe center — a 600-seat proscenium theater, a 200-seat black-box studio and 3,500-square-foot art gallery with adjacent sculpture garden, all housed in a funky-cool facility surrounded by a 17-acre art park overlooking Tempe Town Lake — Tignor summed up her impression.
“It’s really an exciting blend,” she says, “of the artistic and the practical.”
According to center organizers and designers, that’s the whole idea.
A midsize venue built primarily to house the city’s own performing arts organizations — music ensembles, children’s and community theaters, dance troupes — the Tempe Center for the Arts is expected to complement, not necessarily compete with, larger arts centers in Mesa and Scottsdale, as well as Arizona State University’s 3,000-seat Gammage Auditorium.
“We were hearing from many arts organizations that there’s a niche here that isn’t being filled, and it’s for smaller performing arts groups,” says Tempe City Councilwoman Barb Carter, a longtime champion of the center and a tenth-of-a-percent sales tax that voters approved in 2000 to fund its construction.
“We said, that’s where we need to fit our arts center.”
With high-rise business and residential development in full bloom along Town Lake’s edges, the Tempe Center for the Arts has taken shape on the man-made lake’s southern bank with relatively little stir.
If anything, its swooping, angular steel and copper roof — an architectural nod to the buttes of Monument Valley — has attracted curious looks from drivers on Loop 202.
But locals can get a closer look on Sunday, Sept. 9, when the public is invited to a free open house with performances, refreshments and guided tours, from noon to 5 p.m.
The center officially opens Friday evening with an invitation-only event for those who participated in the development and construction of the center, followed by a sold-out Saturday night concert by singer Natalie Cole; those 600 tickets were given to individual contributors and corporate sponsors.
It’s hard to imagine first-time visitors not being wowed by the center, say those who’ve toured the site.
“In Tempe, we wanted the best, and we got the best, believe me,” says Tempe Symphony Orchestra conductor Dick Strange. “The building itself is an art object.”
Indeed, it is.
The spacious lobby fuses hard concrete and warm woods, playful custom-designed carpeting and bold neon signs announcing the individual arts spaces.
“The lobby is like a theater itself,” says Los Angeles architect Barton Myers, an arts-center design veteran who collaborated with Tempe’s Architekton on the arts center project.
Expanses of glass in the lobby and Lakeside banquet room afford views onto a wide reflecting pool that seemingly spills into the lake beyond.
Large public art pieces — like a large concrete fireplace embedded with resin rods containing construction artifacts, and an array of marbles and mirrors that cause light to shimmer and dance at the center’s main entrance — give the space a whimsical and inviting atmosphere.
Behind the scenes, high-tech accouterments such as computerized acoustical tuning in the theater and a near-infinitely adjustable floor in the studio translate to ultimate flexibility for performing groups. And even though the center sits directly in the flight path of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, its specialized roof — sandwiched layers of sound-deadening materials — means an experience free of outside noise.
“I don’t know of anything quite like it,” says Myers about the center. “It’s very intimate. It turned out to be quite special in every way. I think it’s going to be a place that’s going to be much-used and much-liked.”
The Tempe center will be much-used in its first season, with nine “partner” groups occupying three-fourths of the calendar. Childsplay, the biggest of the bunch, is staging its entire season there and paying more than $100,000 in rent, according to Steve Martin, Childsplay’s managing director, while Tempe Little Theatre, the city’s community theater, will stage its season’s four shows in the studio.
Meanwhile, other Valley groups are eager to test out the new venue. Brian Nissen’s Mesa-based Citrus Valley Playhouse, a staged variety show about Arizona history made to simulate an old-time radio program, announced earlier this year that it would uproot itself from the Mesa Arts Center to play in Tempe.
Nissen cited greater flexibility with scheduling performances in the newer space. And Carley Conder’s four-year-old modern conder/DANCE troupe will stage its December choreographers’ showcase in the studio.
The center’s focus may be on local groups, but Tempe cultural facilities administrator Don Fassinger, who runs the arts center, says he’ll consider booking some national touring acts — a jazz series, perhaps, and similar fare — once TCA operations have settled into a more comfortable groove.
The key, says the former general manager of Ballet Arizona, will be finding performing arts that are accessible to the community.
For now the big message of the Tempe Center for the Arts, as far as Ann Ludwig is concerned, is simply that it’s been built. The longtime Tempe resident, whose 30-year-old A Ludwig Dance Theatre is a TCA partner group, sees it as a sign of Tempe’s commitment to arts and culture.
“When you’ve been in the arts all your life,” says Ludwig, “it’s good to see you’re not struggling along in some tiny corner of the universe. People appreciate the arts.”
The Tempe Center for the Arts’ inaugural season calendar is a work in progress; here are the shows and exhibits announced so far. For more information, call (480) 350-2822 or visit www.tempe.gov/tca.
Events in the 600-seat main stage
Sept. 15-Oct. 14: “Charlotte’s Web,” Childsplay
Oct. 15: Tempe Symphony Orchestra, with cellist Brinton Smith
Oct. 17: Arizona Wind Symphony
Oct. 19: “Positive Energy,” Nemesis and comedian Julie Brown, Body Positive
Oct. 26-Nov. 3: “Napolitics 101,” Citrus Valley Playhouse
Nov. 11: “A Thankful Tribute,” Tempe Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Nov. 14: Arizona Wind Symphony
Dec. 1-23: “Seussical,” Childsplay
Feb. 9-March 9: “Goodnight Moon,” Childsplay
May 3-25: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” Childsplay
April 21: Tempe Symphony Orchestra
Events in the 200-seat studio space
Sept. 14-23: “Urinetown,” Tempe Little Theatre
Oct. 5-7: “Convergence Zone,” Desert Dance Theatre
Oct. 27-Nov. 11: “A Thousand Cranes,” Childsplay
Nov. 16-25: “Beyond Therapy,” Tempe Little Theatre
Dec. 8: “Breaking Ground” choreographers’ showcase, conder/DANCE
Dec. 14-15: “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues,” Tempe Little Theatre
March 6-9: “Glass Blocks,” A Ludwig Dance Theatre
March 22-April 6: “A Tale of Two Cities,” Childsplay
Feb. 15-24: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Tempe Little Theatre
April 26-29: “Variance,” A Ludwig Dance Theatre
May 9-18: “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress”
Upcoming exhibits in the 3,500-square-foot visual arts gallery and adjoining sculpture garden
Sept. 9-Jan. 11: “But It’s a Dry Heat”
Sept. 9-Jan. 11: Childsplay 30th anniversary retrospective
Jan. 25-TBA: “Mercy” (Roy Orbison tribute exhibit)
Summer 2008: “Masters of Illusion”
Fall 2008: Biannual call for Arizona artists
Events scheduled for other TCA rooms or on the arts center grounds
Sept. 21: Ballet Under the Stars, Ballet Arizona (outside TCA)
June 7-14: “In My Grandmother’s Purse,” Childsplay (Lakeside)
June 15-22: “The Audubon Project,” Childsplay (Lakeside)