City Performance Hall Would Love Some More Arts Groups to Make Reservations

Back in June, Schutze laid out his case against the under-construction City Performance Hall in the Arts District, which is set to open in September 2012 and serve as a home for six tiers' worth of small- to mid-sized arts orgs in need of fancier digs. Today the council's newly resurrected Arts, Culture & Libraries Committee will tour the construction site; good thing they picked such a nice day for it. We're tagging along, in part because Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, is conducting the tour, along with one of the building's architects from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. And during her tour, Munoz-Blanco will tell the council that as of the October 1 request deadline, the OCA has received requests for 57 rental dates between opening day 2012 and August 2013 -- or, about half of what they'd hoped for at this point.

Says a memo Assistant City Attorney Joey Zapata sent to council last week:

Reservations from smaller groups typically come in closer to the event date, so we expect additional reservations as the opening date nears. Additionally, OCA staff is currently discussing test run events with several arts organizations; these will be at no cost to the arts group and will serve to test the facility systems and operational procedures. Staff will survey the 70 organizations that participated in the master planning process to assess their continued interest in the facility.
I asked Munoz-Blanco this morning about that lower-than-expected number of requests, and she said, sure, absolutely, "I would have liked to have seen more by this point." But, she insisted, "one of our challenges, I am guessing, is that without the building open and without people able to see it, some of our potential rentals are waiting to see how it turns out."

That's especially true, she says, for music groups who aren't willing to commit till they hear how the building sounds. While there are dates on hold for Lone Star Wind Orchestra, Turtle Creek Chorale, Orchestra of New Spain and Metropolitan Winds, she tells Unfair Park today, "while acoustics is science, there's a bit of art in it too, and they're waiting to see how the acoustics play." When I asked who's waiting, she said she didn't want to mention any specific organizations' names.

Munoz-Blanco says another reason bookings haven't been as fast and furious as expected is that it's going to take time for smaller arts groups to ramp up their productions to fill the bigger space, which will have a 750-capacity theater split into two levels.

"If they've been performing in a 100-seat or church space, your production space will be different, and they will have to grow in the building," she says. "The Dallas Opera didn't start big. They have grown into what they are now. The question is: Do you continue to grow the cultural community, and if you do, this is how you do it. Some groups are more ready than others, so we'll see how that evolves. There's an expectation that just because they have had a need for the building all along they'll jump into it, but it'll take a while for some groups. Others are ready to go, and it'll be interesting to see how they work together.

"The capacity's 750, but it feels intimate because of the two levels. And it could work at 500 for some of the smaller groups. It should be a nice building to really engage a lot of local groups and see them grow long term. It has amazing potential for the arts community."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky