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The $100 million center has sold about 30 percent of its total seating capacity for the 25 shows scheduled at the new facility.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
The Virginia Tech Center for the Arts in Blacksburg is set to open in the fall of 2013.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech
The new Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech was first announced in 2006. The initial estimated cost was $50 million, and the university had originally planned for a smaller, 67,000-square-foot facility. A new research institute was added, doubling the center’s size and budget. Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, opening fall 2013
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
The Center for the Arts includes a black box theater called “The Cube,” a four-story facility that seats about 100 people.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
With three months to go before opening to the public, Virginia Tech's $100 million Center for the Arts has already drawn interest - enough to sell about 30 percent of its total seating capacity for its 25 scheduled shows.
"We don't have any historical data to measure, but I honestly did not anticipate advance season sales at this level," wrote center executive director Ruth Waalkes in an email. "It's terrific."
It's a good sign for the state-of-the-art center, which joins an expanding Southwest Virginia arts and cultural landscape. Since the $66 million Taubman Museum of Art opened in Roanoke in 2008, the region has also seen the openings and renovations of Center in the Square in Roanoke, Heartwood in Abingdon, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax and the Clifton Forge School of the Arts, with even more under development.
Center for the Arts officials have said from the beginning that it's not their intention to compete with the other arts organizations in the area. Indeed, its first full season, 21 acts performing a total of 25 shows, puts an emphasis on chamber music and modern dance - shows that other groups do not often book.
Nor is the center a large venue - its main theater seats 1,260 maximum. Its four-story black box theater, known as "The Cube," can seat about 100, though the configurations vary.
The center stands on the site of the old Shultz Hall cafeteria beside the Alumni Mall. Construction of the 130,000-square-foot complex began in June 2010 and remains on schedule, said spokeswoman Susan Bland, with both exterior and interior down to the finishing touches. The center's staff of 23 expects to start moving in within the next two weeks.
The building may be new, but Center for the Arts shows aren't - since 2011, it has organized performance seasons in collaboration with other organizations, such as The Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech's School of Performing Arts & Cinema and the Taubman Museum of Art.
The approach exemplified how the center wants to work closely with regional organizations on programming. Yet, as there's never been a facility in the region like the Center for the Arts, officials started selling subscription packages in May with few expectations.
It turned out the years of advance promotion had paid off. "We had a great rush for tickets as soon as we released the season subscription information," Waalkes wrote. "I believe the quality and diversity of our programs have really piqued peoples' interest, and the sense of something new and different has gotten people very interested and excited."
So far the center has sold $126,301 in subscription packages, the equivalent of about 5,400 tickets. Subscriptions to see all 21 acts range from $329 to $483, and the center allows for "Build Your Own" subscriptions that let buyers pick and choose multiple shows at a discount. Bland said 237 households have purchased subscriptions.
Two May 2014 performances by Italian children's theater company Compagnia TPO have already sold out, though Bland notes those performances take place in the smaller Cube - officially called the Collaborative Performance Lab.
One of the most popular shows so far has been the Nov. 1 opening night performance by the Philip Glass Ensemble.
With its box seats, balcony and acoustics that call to mind a miniature Carnegie Hall, the theater seems an idea venue for Glass, a founder of modern minimalist composition who has written soundtracks for films such as "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Truman Show." His New York-based ensemble will perform a live score to a film that will screen as they play. The Blacksburg Children's Chorale will sing the choral parts.
Bland said that other popular shows have been the Crooked Road Festival in March 2014, a bluegrass concert assembled in partnership with the Crooked Road tourism initiative; and magician Tomas Kubinek's performance in April 2014. Other acts include a Holiday Pops concert by the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and "Reinventing Radio," a presentation by Ira Glass, host of NPR's "This American Life."
On Aug. 6, tickets to individual performances will go on sale, with prices ranging from $15 to $60, and $10 for students.
In addition to the performance hall and the Cube, the center will also house two visual art galleries and a new research center: the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology.
One of seven research centers at Virginia Tech, ICAT will have its own budget, starting at about $1 million, that will be largely funded by grants. At present ICAT has five people on staff.
The center also includes a new TV studio that's already been certified for use. The university's Department of Communication is now training its faculty on the studio equipment, officials said.
Virginia Tech first announced the project in 2006. At the time the university only planned to build a 67,000-square-foot performance hall, with an estimated cost of $50 million. By the time construction began the new research institute had been added to the plan, the project's size and budget had nearly doubled.
The center's $5 million annual operating budget will be the largest for an art institute in the region.
It is also by far the largest of the arts-related capital projects underway in the last five years, including the $27 million Center in the Square renovation, a $9 million music center underway in Rocky Mount and a planned $11 million artisan center in Rockbridge County.
The eventual goal is for Virginia Tech to cover only a third of the center's $5 million operating budget, about $1.7 million. The center is expected to fund the remaining $3.3 million through program revenue and donations.
The center has an ongoing capital campaign with a goal of $28 million, which has raised $21 million to date, Waalkes said. The state is contributing $27.4 million designated for educational components such as ICAT. The university is covering the difference in the $100 million cost.
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