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Executives Back Cultural Venue For Valley Arts

Valley business leaders figure it’s about time a high-profile performing arts center laid its foundation here, and plenty of them say that they’re ready to open their checkbooks to make that idea a reality. In the Business Journal’s most recent quarterly leadership survey, the firm of CooperBeavers polled hundreds of business leaders about their attendance of local art performances, donation habits and the fate of a Valley performance center. Over 90 percent of respondents said they attend cultural arts performances, 56 percent said they donate to cultural events, venues and organizations in the Valley, and 65 percent of those said they would donate more to ensure that a permanent cultural and performing arts center materialized in the Valley. The response pleased Jolene Koester, president of California State University Northridge, which is planning to build a 1,600-seat performing arts center by the end of the decade. “It’s thrilling to have an affirmation of our sense that people who live in the Valley care about arts,” said Koester. “This (CSUN) performing arts center is our way of assuring that mission is fulfilled for the future,” Koester said. Koester said the University will be looking to state bond sales to supply half of the $100 million needed to build the facility, and will be looking to local organizations, corporations and other donors to supply the rest. Judy Knudson, vice president of advancements for CSUN, said that the college has begun polling local business leaders and already received donations and pledges in excess of $100,000. The preliminary polling is currently being handled by volunteers, Knudson said. She added that the college will begin a full-time fundraising campaign in the summer of 2005. “If it’s dynamic and the programs run there are either art programs or live music and theater, the Valley would support it on a subscription and membership basis,” said Jay Aldrich, chair of the San Fernando Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The corporations in the Valley would get right behind it also.” Gerald Curry, an attorney based in Warner Center who responded to the survey, said he doesn’t attend cultural events on a regular basis, but would be more likely to go to a Valley production. “If there were a concert at CSUN I would probably go,” said Curry. “I’m actually an alumnus of CSUN, it’s a nice place to go.” Traffic considerations James Kinsey, executive director of the Valley Cultural Center, said that traffic gridlock is going to be encouraging people to patronize arts in the Valley even more than they do now. “As the Valley becomes more densely populated, traffic is congested and it’s going to get even worse, I really envision people not wanting to leave their bedroom community to do anything. Certainly not get into their car and drive two hours to see a show in downtown LA,” Kinsey said. Kinsey said he thinks that the Valley has failed to secure a large performing arts center because downtown L.A. has persisted in people’s minds as the natural location for cultural activity. However, he said, the Valley has grown larger and more culturally diverse in the meantime, and that more and more people seem interested in supporting a permanent arts center. “No one was talking about it a year ago, now we’re all talking about it,” he said. The Valley Cultural Center has created a separate non-profit group, called the Valley Alliance for the Arts, and is planning to build its own performing arts center, Kinsey said. But he doesn’t feel that another facility will take away from the potential Northridge audience. “We believe that the Valley could support two facilities, since the focus of the facilities is somewhat different,” Kinsey said. Northridge’s center, he said, would have an educational component, while the facility his group is planning would be strictly commercial. Additionally, Kinsey said the group’s internal studies have shown that a performing arts center could tap a potential audience of 2.5 million, all of the Valley and parts of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. He said that would be enough to support two theaters. “It’s going to draw people from Calabasas, Malibu, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Glendale and the Westside,” Kinsey said. The theater, at 1,800 seats, would be slightly larger than the one planned for CSUN, Kinsey said. Focusing on arts Rick Miller, vice president of business development and public affairs for West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, said that a recent meeting of the Valley Leadership Institute focused on arts in the Valley and a performing arts center. He said that it’s important for the Valley to broaden its artistic image with a major venue. “It has an importance broader than just arts, in the recruitment of talent into the Valley as well as retention,” he said. Miller said that West Hills contributes on a regular basis, but said that the hospital could actually be cutting its cultural contributions in the wake of a rough two years suffered by the healthcare business. Other healthcare companies echoed Miller’s response in their survey answers. Of the five that responded, three said that they would contribute more to San Fernando Valley-based organizations in order to create a permanent arts center, but none would increase its total donations. Out of total responses, however, 19 companies reported that they would increase their total donations in order to support a Valley arts center.

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