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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Arts nonprofit says Clark County needs new concert venue

Liberace, Liza live tribute at Kiggins

By , Columbian staff writer

Fans of shameless razzle-dazzle can catch a live tribute to a couple of great stage entertainers Wednesday at downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre.

They’ll have to imagine what it might be like to take in the visiting “Liberace & Liza” show at a bigger, more appropriate venue than a temporarily repurposed cinema.

The search goes on for the right Vancouver real estate for a new, top-tier, multi-purpose concert hall and live performance venue, according to Kathy McDonald, the longtime executive director of a small nonprofit with big dreams: The Southwest Washington Center for the Arts.

The envisioned $60 million venue would feature an acoustically excellent main auditorium that could seat as many as 1,300 concertgoers, McDonald said. That would make it the perfect home for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as well as the right room for big traveling shows and concerts that tend to head for Portland’s Keller Auditorium or Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall now, she said.

To accommodate local performers and productions, the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts would also include a smaller, versatile theater or studio with seating for up to 300, McDonald said. That would make it a great venue for theater and dance companies that don’t have their own spaces, she said.


What: Liberace & Liza: A Tribute

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver

Tickets: $25

On the web: www.kigginstheatre.com

Get ready for glitz

Getting the word out about the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts and its vision remains a challenge, said McDonald’s new executive assistant, Sammuel Murry-Hawkins, a Vancouver jazz musician and singer with a long track record of working behind the scenes at theaters and on concert tours. To raise its profile, the small organization has started sponsoring live music at downtown venues, especially Trusty Brewing, on occasions like First Friday Art Walks

Murry-Hawkins drew on his personal connections in the theater and opera circles to bring David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris to the Kiggins for “Liberace & Liza: A Tribute.”

It was Murry-Hawkins himself, he said, who once urged his friend Saffert, a pro pianist, to doll up like famously schmaltzy, outrageously extravagant showman Liberace for a birthday party performance.

That quick, silly notion turned into a lucrative career for Saffert, who has gone on to impersonate Liberace at clubs from San Francisco to New York to Las Vegas. At the Kiggins, he’ll be joined by Liza Minnelli impersonator Jillian Snow Harris for a shamelessly show-bizzy evening of rousing music, corny comedy and Vegas-style glitz.

Bo Ayars, who toured with the real Liberace for 13 years as his musical director and arranger, will conduct a five-person ensemble for the 90-minute show.

Still looking

McDonald and Murry-Hawkins said people from Clark County love and support the arts, and they are tired of having to travel to Portland, especially as traffic worsens, prices rise and that city’s safe, welcoming reputation has deteriorated badly.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s home has long been the auditorium at Skyview High School, but leasing a busy school auditorium for weekend concerts is getting more expensive and complicated all the time, Murry-Hawkins said. Such rooms simply aren’t available to smaller organizations, he added.

Meanwhile, Beaverton recently celebrated the grand opening of the new Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. One of the objectives in Vancouver’s 2015-2021 strategic plan was a similar large-capacity performing arts center. McDonald said she’s disappointed that city planners haven’t prioritized a new Southwest Washington Center for the Arts on or near the downtown waterfront.

She said she has already secured pledges from local philanthropists adding up to about one-third of the envisioned $60 million price tag for such a facility. While a downtown location would be ideal, arts boosters have also contemplated other sites, including the former Hewlett Packard campus in east Vancouver, where a redevelopment plan is underway.

“I’m just looking for an available city block,” McDonald said.