An arts center by any other name? - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

An arts center by any other name?

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Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2005 6:20 am | Updated: 9:11 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

March 5, 2005

The Scottsdale Center for the Arts needs a face-lift to compete better with expensive facilities going up in other East Valley cities, but the people who run the 30-year-old building are starting the renovation with its name.

They want to add "performing" to the center’s title.

"The words ‘arts center’ are a little elusive," said Frank Jacobson, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council, which operates all city-owned arts facilities.

In 1999, the center’s contemporary art collection was made into a separate entity — the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — and moved next door.

Since then, the center has served primarily as a venue for theater, live music and dance performances, said Kathy Hotchner, the center’s director.

As the "Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts," people would know it’s the place to go for theater, she said.

On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to consider the name change. While Scottsdale contracts with the cultural council to operate the center, the city still must sign off on such decisions, said Michelle Korf, deputy director of the city’s Downtown Group.

The name change would serve two purposes, Jacobson said. First, it more accurately reflects the center’s activities. And second, it provides a better brand name.

"Any way we can strengthen our brand and our message, that’s our goal," Jacobson said.

While Scottsdale’s center has been successful in establishing itself as a major venue over the past three decades, the East Valley has grown tremendously, generating competition along with a larger potential audience.

The Mesa Arts Center, a massive campus of theaters and galleries, is set to open in April. Construction on the Tempe Center for the Arts is under way, with completion scheduled in 2006. Both have cost more than $90 million.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council has requested funds to renovate Scottsdale’s center, Jacobson said. Initially, the organization planned for $15 million in repairs and upgrades, but has pared it down to $5 million, primarily focused on the Virginia G. Piper Theater.

Scottsdale City Manager Jan Dolan is expected to release a draft budget for fiscal 2005-06 this month, possibly including funds for the center’s renovation.

How important is a word? That depends upon which arts marketing expert is talking.

"The name is the call to action," said Matt Lehrman, executive director of Alliance for Audience, an arts marketing organization.

Lehrman, who used to work for the cultural council, said people need to know what the venue is going to provide before they walk in.

"You put the word museum because people know how to interact with a museum," he said.

Transforming a venue, or anything related to the arts, into a brand is not an exact science, said Julie Peeler, a vice president with Americans for the Arts.

"I would say there is no tried and true way to do it," Peeler said. She leads the nationwide marketing organization’s arts and business programs.

For instance, Peeler said one a cappella singing group that was researching an image makeover decided to change its name to an Italian word, but few knew what it meant. "And they did better," Peeler said.

"These kind of questions are never about what you think they should be about," Lehrman said of branding. "It’s about how your audience perceives you."

In Tampa, Fla. — where Peeler lives — there are two large venues, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the Ruth Eckerd Hall. They are on opposite ends of the city and both regularly sell out because of the shows they bring in, not their names, Peeler said.

Likewise, Randy Vogel, the Mesa Arts Center administrator, contends Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa can coexist just fine.

With so many people moving here, cultural shows and events will flood in as well, Vogel said. "There’s enough out there for all of us."

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