Centering attention on arts facilities - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Centering attention on arts facilities

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Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2007 4:30 am | Updated: 6:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

And they’re off — Tempe and Mesa, that is. But whither image-conscious Scottsdale?

The showdown among East Valley arts centers begins in earnest with today’s grand opening of the Tempe Center for the Arts, next to Tempe Beach Park on the edge of Tempe Town Lake. Can you hear the branding going on here?

With its dramatically sloping roof and wood-accented interior, the TCA distinguishes itself somewhat from the Mesa Arts Center, since both have multiple theaters opening out into one lobby dominated by a glass wall, multiplex-style, and both have high roofs to accommodate their main theaters’ flytowers.

The semi-inevitable similarities between these two centers coexist with the fact they are angling for different markets. The $98 million Mesa Arts Center has four theaters, is angling for more national acts, and has the added burden of urban renewal. The $65 million Tempe Center for the Arts has two theaters with more of a community focus and is one part of a rapidly rising lakeside skyline.

This brings up the question of how two more cities will distinguish their arts facilities as they undergo needed upgrades. Chandler won approval for its bond package this year, so they’re off and running, with community meetings set to begin at the end of the month.

Scottsdale is still flailing, with its 32-year-old Center for the Performing Arts the oldest in the East Valley and looking it. The 833-seat theater can’t compete for the biggest shows, and is outclassed by newer competitors in the same seating range.

The board of trustees for the Scottsdale Cultural Council, which operates the city-owned center, in July set out three clear, but clearly incompatible, visions for expansion of the city’s cultural footprint: Expand the performing arts center; preserve the intimacy of the existing center; disperse amenities throughout the elongated city.

The council also has on hand extensive amounts of market research working on a broader cultural assessment for the group. Its members should use it and come up with a workable solution.

Scottsdale already has its reputation for presenting edgier, more contemporary work, but doing so with the same old buildings and technologies won’t work forever.

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