Local view: the community lacks a cultural center
There’s no denying that Vancouver is one of the fastest growing communities in the United States and has experienced a cultural and economic renaissance with the revitalization of the downtown waterfront.
World-class cuisine, internationally renowned winemakers and the riverside promenade draw visitors and locals alike, but it begs the question: what else is there to do after dinner and a ride ?
Any other major metropolitan community would answer this question with a recommendation to follow in local performing arts. However, the fourth-largest city in the state lacks dedicated facilities for live shows.
Since the turn of the 20th century, residents of Vancouver have not built any facilities specifically for live performance, outside of the facilities included in the school system. With the transition from vaudeville to cinema, the city neglected to invest in a venue dedicated to the performing arts.
Residents have become smitten with the idea of traveling to Portland to enjoy Broadway productions, dance, opera and symphonic works at one of the city’s five public performing arts venues (The Keller Auditorium, The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, The Newmark Theatre, The Winningstad Theater and Brunnish Hall). In addition to these civic spaces, many Portland performing arts groups have the chance to present in their own spaces.
Vancouver’s only non-educational performing arts organization with its own space remains the Magenta Theatre, only after years of performing at a local church.
Churches. Hotel lobbies. Converted historic homes. Vacant shops in malls. Movie theater. High-rent public school auditoriums. These have become options for local performing arts organizations.
With no alternative to hosting major touring productions, residents are forced to invest their entertainment dollars in Portland’s economy if they wish to benefit from visiting artists. While Vancouver’s school system provides an incredible venue in the Skyview Auditorium, seeing a world-class symphony in a high school auditorium doesn’t scream at night.
This is a time to recognize that our community lacks a cultural hub, a facility that can support local performing arts organizations and expose our citizens to performances from around the world.
The Southwest Washington Center for the Arts is working to make this a reality by bringing a privately funded venue equipped with a main auditorium that seats 1,250 and flexible performance space that seats up to 300. people who could meet the needs of local arts groups who are currently dependent on the found spaces.
Flexible event spaces, rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, catering and art exhibition spaces are also included in the planned design of the 60,000 square foot facility. We appreciate the community support as we explore possible locations for the venue.
Samuel Murry-Hawkins is creative director of the SW WA Center for the Arts.