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Pushing for Business Involvement in CSUN Arts Center

Construction on the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge has begun. An official groundbreaking ceremony was held April 30 at the site. The proposed center, which will be completed in two years, has been the focus of the university’s attention for the last few years. It will be both a public venue for holding a wide variety of arts productions as well as a teaching facility. CSUN officials as well as supporters of the center promise that it will be a top-notch facility with productions rivaling those of downtown L.A. venues. CSUN has all but $29 million of the $125 million necessary to finish the 1,700-seat venue. A public-private partnership is making the center happen. More than half of the money already obtained comes from state bonds with $15 million coming from other campus earmarked funds. Private donors have given $15 million. No naming rights have been granted for the venue, although officials certainly want to do that if a large enough gift is obtained. Corporate naming rights have not been ruled out. In fact, major corporate gifts have been few and far between in fund-raising for the center. A major corporate campaign is about to get underway, according to Vance Peterson, CSUN Vice President of University Advancement. So the ball has been thrown to the business community in the Valley to get behind the center both financially and in spirit. With this in mind, I requested a meeting with CSUN President Jolene Koester to look at the Valley Performing Arts Center from a businessperson’s perspective and to ask some questions I know some of our readers have about the project. Koester had VP Peterson sit in on the meeting. I asked about content at the center. What’s going to be there? Will a Valley businessperson who attends many productions downtown and in other parts of Los Angeles be able to give up any season tickets they have at those places since the Valley will have a top-notch venue? Koester said that the Valley center will have world-class productions but it is merely another option for those seeking culture. “We’ve always conceived this performing arts center as adding to choices,” Koester said. “What we’re hoping to create are new audiences,” she added. The center has an agreement with the L.A. Music Center to help provide programming for the Valley venue. But Koester assures us that we won’t get castoffs that the Music Center doesn’t want. The lineup will include full-scale Broadway-type productions, symphony, opera, dance and opportunities for movie screenings and premieres. There will be some student performances, but that will be less of the content, Koester said. The second big thing I tried to get at with the CSUN officials was execution of the site. Yes, will this thing really come off as planned and will it be a consistent top performer that the Valley can be really proud of or will it be something half-baked that the rest of L.A. would expect from the 818? Those of us who have lived in the Valley for awhile know that sometimes we expect too little of ourselves. It’s just the way it is. “It’s going to be world-class programs in a world-class facility,” Koester assured. I believe her and believe that corporations large and small should get behind this thing and bring it over the $29 million mark in construction fundraising and support it when it opens. Why? – We deserve it. There are 1.8 million people just in the San Fernando Valley and over 2 million in our surrounding valleys who can support this thing. That’s a number far bigger than some states. Besides, our area is so spread out that it has become a major hassle to get to those Hollywood and downtown L.A. performances. “The single biggest problem we have in L.A. is traffic congestion,” said Bob Rawitch, CSUN alumnus, Valley businessman and university foundation board member. “I don’t view it as a rival to downtown as a venue but an alternative to downtown as a venue , an excellent alternative.” – Other than downtown L.A. and Thousand Oaks, there’s nothing like this in our suburban Valleys. Once again, there are over 2 million people here. – CSUN does have world-class music and arts programs. Of any state school, it can pull it off. – The arts have been decimated in lower grades in public education. This will provide a place for kids to get exposed to things they wouldn’t otherwise come upon. The dumbing down of our country has got to stop. If we support this, we at least are helping to raise the level of education in our local area. For businesses, that’s a definite plus. This is reason enough for supporting the center. It’s a bad time to be asking businesses or anybody for money. But if you ever thought about a long-term investment, this is a really good one. This will be something you can see the benefits of directly. Every weekend, maybe. Vance Peterson talked about the intangibles from supporting the center. It adds to quality of life, he says. You can’t deny that. The center promotes high-quality talent, he added. Good for education and that’s good for business. To those who say CSUN should be spending time and money on other things such as curriculum upgrades: To that I say the center will be a curriculum upgrade. Once again, CSUN is known nationally for its music and arts programs. This enhances it greatly. I asked about restaurants. Yes, restaurants. Northridge has few top-notch restaurants that could enhance a high-class arts experience. To that, the CSUN officials respond by saying that the center will create great opportunities for businesspeople to start those types of restaurants. Build it and they will come. That’s what I say about the Valley Performing Arts Center. Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff can be reached at (818) 316-3125 or at editor@sfvbj.com .

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