Ten Years of Artistic Excellence
by Sarah Cook
RiverCenter for the Performing Arts celebrates 10 years
Ten years ago, having performances in downtown Columbus by Yo-yo Ma, B.B. King, The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Loretta Lynn would have been unfathomable. With the addition of RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, these performances became a reality.
In May of 2002, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, located in the heart of historic uptown Columbus, opened as the area’s first major performing arts center. Located on Broadway and Tenth
Street, the 245,000 sq. ft. complex houses the 2,000-seat Bill Heard Theatre, the 430-seat Legacy Hall and 184-seat Studio Theatre. Designed by the multi-national architectural firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, the center serves as the centerpiece for the city’s new arts and entertainment district.
As a key component on the revitalization of uptown, the construction of RiverCenter had two purposes: to bring the community out for evening performances and to serve as home to the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University. Today, a visitor to uptown Columbus couldn’t miss the five-story complex, which spans an entire city block.
“If you really want a newcomer to look around and say ‘my goodness, Columbus is an interesting place,’ take them inside the RiverCenter,” says Gardiner Garrard, chairman for the board of The Jordan Company and current board member of RiverCenter.
With the 1995 launch of the Columbus Challenge, a public-private partnership spearheaded by the Bradley-Turner Foundation, more than $100 million was raised to construct RiverCenter and support other arts-related organizations.
Garrard, who was also chairman of the Columbus Challenge, said that through raising money from the state and private donations, the dream of a performing arts center in Columbus became possible. “Before the RiverCenter there was the Three Arts Center,” Garrard says. “It was really the only place for any kind of visiting performing arts.”
After seeing cities such as Greenville, S.C. prosper from a performing arts center, Garrard says community leaders knew Columbus needed something that would benefit the arts. “It’s one of those things that when you talk to someone about the RiverCenter, they’re enthusiastic about it,” Garrard says.
Since the construction of RiverCenter, uptown has become a more active area, specifically at night. There has also been an influx of CSU students with the addition of the Schwob School. “Downtown is becoming what the Urban Land Institute calls a 24-hour city,” Garrard says. “In many cities when you go downtown at night, it’s a little lonely. Downtown Columbus now is pretty vibrant.”
Along with bringing renowned performances to Columbus, RiverCenter also partners with local performing arts organizations by serving as the home of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus, the professional chorus Cantus Columbus and the Columbus Ballet.
After just 10 years of operation, RiverCenter has become a cultural hub for the arts. During the 2011-2012 season alone, the center hosted violinist Joshua Bell, a performance by the Russian National Ballet, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and theatrical performances Fiddler on the Roof and Mamma Mia. “The thing that’s common in all of our performances is artistic excellence,” says Bill Bullock, executive director of RiverCenter.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, RiverCenter is hosting “The Midtown Men,” featuring four stars from the original Broadway cast of Jersey Boys, on Saturday, Sept. 8. There will be a Gala Birthday Bash held in the Grand Lobby following the show. “We’re calling our 2012-2013 season ‘Celebrate 10 Years,’” says Bill Bullock. “The Midtown Men” production will reunite Tony Award-winners Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard along with nominee J. Robert Spencer in a concert celebrating music that defined the ‘60s. Other upcoming shows in the 2012-2013 season include performances by actress, comedienne and singer Bernadette Peters, comedian Bill Engvall and musicals Shrek, Catch Me if You Can and The Addams Family.
Since the beginning, Garrard says he believes the RiverCenter has had a positive effect on downtown by stimulating economic growth from the arts. “I happen to believe that economic growth and development of a city is driven by arts and culture today as companies seek an educated workforce,” Garrard says. “[People considering a move to Columbus] would see that a city committed to the arts is a good place to live.”
Many businesses, including Aflac, have sponsored RiverCenter through its early years, Garrard says, and its main goal going forward will be to get more sponsors and more people to join as annual members.
As RiverCenter approaches its next 10 years, Bullock says he is hopeful that it will experience the same level of success it has had in its first ten years of operation. “It may sound presumptuous, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” Bullock says. “I think our challenge is to keep doing that good job.
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