One cannot deny that Vancouver is one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States, and has experienced a renaissance both culturally and economically with the revitalization of the downtown waterfront.
World-class cuisine, internationally recognized vintners, and the riverfront promenade attract visitors and locals alike, but this begs the question: What else is there to do after dinner and a walk?
Any other major metropolitan community would answer this question with a recommendation to take in the local performing arts. The fourth-largest city in the state, however, lacks a dedicated facility for live performance.
Not since the early 20th century have residents of Vancouver constructed a facility specifically for live performance, apart from facilities included in the school system. With the transition from vaudeville to cinema, the city neglected to invest in a dedicated performing arts venue.
Residents became complacent with the idea of traveling to Portland to enjoy touring Broadway productions, dance, opera and symphonic works in one of that city’s five dedicated public performing arts venues (The Keller Auditorium, The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, The Newmark Theater, The Winningstad Theatre, and Brunnish Hall). In addition to these civic spaces, many Portland performing arts groups are fortunate enough to present in their own spaces.
Vancouver’s only non-educational performing arts organization with its own space remains Magenta Theater, only after years of performing in a local church.
Churches. Hotel lobbies. Converted historic homes. Vacant shops in strip malls. Movie theaters. High-rent public school auditoriums. These have become the options for local performing arts organizations.
With no alternatives to accommodate large touring productions, residents are forced to put their entertainment dollars into the Portland economy should they wish to enjoy visiting artists. While the Vancouver school system does offer an amazing venue in Skyview Auditorium, attending a world-class symphony in a high school auditorium doesn’t scream date night.
This is the time to recognize that our community is lacking a cultural hub, a facility that can support local performing arts organizations and expose our citizens to performances from across the globe.
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 seating 1,250 patrons, and a flexible performance space seating up to 300 that could accommodate the needs of local arts groups that are currently reliant on found spaces.
Flexible event spaces, rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, dining and art exhibition spaces are also included in the forecasted design of the 60,000-square-foot facility. We appreciate the support of the community as we explore possible locations for the venue.
Sammuel Murry-Hawkins is creative director of the SW WA Center for the Arts.