Center for the Arts celebrates 30 years - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Center for the Arts celebrates 30 years

May 16th, 2019 development
Center for the Arts celebrates 30 years

Managing Editor

Excitement is growing as the Chandler Center for the Arts prepares to mark its 30th anniversary later this year as a cultural and civic hub that grew out of an unusual partnership between a visionary mayor and forward-thinking school district leader.

The official anniversary is Aug. 25 but stars will light up the stage and festivities will take place at the iconic center on North Arizona Avenue in bustling downtown throughout the 2019-2020 season.

The arts center serves more than 210,000 people a year with an extensive calendar of diverse performances and concerts featuring nationally and internationally known artists and entertainers.

It also provides outreach programs including summer musical theater camps for youths and provides rotating exhibitions in its two gallery spaces, The Gallery at CCA and the Vision Gallery.

It originated in the mid-1980s, when Chandler Mayor Jerry Brooks wanted to attract high-tech companies to the city as an element of his economic development plan.

Brooks and city leaders wanted Intel Corporation to come to Chandler to expand its operations. The mayor knew Chandler could lure Intel and other companies if it could demonstrate its high-quality of life, including excellent schools, sunny weather and arts and entertainment offerings.

While Brooks was deliberating on how to compete against other cities, the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) was looking for an auditorium for its high school to use.

That sparked an idea with Brooks.

Then Chandler school district Superintendent Ted Perry was “futuristic” and helped the district and city agree on a special partnership, recalled Chandler Unified spokesperson Terry Locke.

Michelle Mac Lennan, general manager of the Chandler Center for the Arts, praised Brooks for his work in getting the center opened.

“He was always a champion for arts and culture,” Mac Lennan said. “He just worked in partnership with the Chandler Unified School District on the building.”

The arts center was built for $10 million, with the City of Chandler and Chandler Unified School District each paying for half of the construction cost.

The city and school district own the center and both pay for general maintenance and capital costs.

Maricopa County Justice of the Peace Jay Tibshraeny was on the Chandler City Council when the agreement between CUSD and city was approved for the arts center. He later was elected and served as mayor in Chandler for many years.

“I always felt that the Center for the Arts was a key component for any kind of successful downtown and plus giving the multi-use for the school district just really made this a win-win for everybody,” Tibshraeny said. “The center has just been a spectacular addition to the school district and the city. We’ve used it through the years as a venue for entertainment and joint use with the school district but we’ve also used it to help attract corporate citizens and companies to our community.”

The partnership for the arts center also prompted the city to form other beneficial partnerships with the Chandler school district and Tempe Union High School District, he said.

All the schools in the Chandler district use the Chandler Center for the Arts for performances, rehearsals and other events, generally Mondays through Thursdays and during the daytime on Fridays while the city uses it primarily for performances on weekends.

However, the city does open up the arts center to the school district for its science fair and other school activities on weekends, as needed, Locke said.

“In some ways it’s been the hub of the community for the last 30 years,” he said. “Before all the expansion and the development downtown it was really the place to be. Really the partnership went so well that both the city and school district looked for additional opportunities to partner.”

Some other school district-city partnerships include the city-run library at Hamilton High School and city-run pool affiliated with Basha High School.

Students benefit from the city library at Basha High as it is open evenings and weekends. The partnerships allow the city and school district and consequently taxpayers in both entities to save money, Locke said.

He said Perry “was a very progressive guy” in his role as superintendent in the district.

“He really was very futuristic and could see the value of these kind of partnerships,” Locke said. “The school board at the time and Ted Perry deserve a lot of credit…the school board at the time had a lot of emphasis on the arts.”

The late Phoenix architect Wendell Ernst Rossman headed the design team for the Chandler Center for the Arts.

Rossman’s experimental work in concrete creations also included Saint Maria Goretti Church in Scottsdale and Manzanita Hall at Arizona State University in Tempe, which are local landmarks.

He developed the Turntable Division Auditorium for the Chandler Center for the Arts, a design solution which has become commonly used around the world.

With this design, Chandler Center for the Arts allows for two rear sections of the main auditorium to rotate 180-degrees to add two more intimate performance spaces that may be used simultaneously: the 346-seat Hal Bogle Theatre and the 250-seat Recital Hall.

For large-scale shows, the “pods” open to create the full 1,508-seat theater at the center.

“It’s been very well maintained,” Mac Lennan said. “The city’s done an excellent job; not only on the maintenance side, (but) some significant investment in patron amenities in keeping the center not only beautiful but state-of-the-art. We have a brand new sound system.”

The Chandler Center for the Arts has an AiRAY loudspeaker system from COD Audio.

“The complete acoustic upgrade means Chandler Center for the Arts guests are guaranteed an intimate, state-of-the-art theatre experience,” center spokeswoman Cynde Cerf said, adding:

“CODA’s newly patented acoustic technology ensures that every seat, regardless of location will experience the same clarity of sound and volume. CODA’s technology eliminates 90 percent of the sound distortion that comes with normal sound systems, ensuring the highest possible auditory experience for all performances.

“From intimate solo artists to large-scale orchestras and bands, the goal is to bring artists closer to patrons by providing an impactful, complete and cutting-edge audio experience that never distracts from the performance.”

Audience members got to experience the new AiRAY sound system when it made its official debut in September of 2018 when Grammy Award winner Macy Gray performed on the Main Stage there during the center’s season opening weekend.

Chandler Center for the Arts has seen many milestones over its three decades.

The groundbreaking for the center took place in 1988 and the Chandler Cultural Foundation, which is the nonprofit organization that serves as the programming and fundraising group for the arts center, formed in 1989.

People got to watch the first free summer concert series at the arts center in 1996 and the first annual mariachi festival came to Chandler Center for the Arts a few years later.

The late singer and actress Rosemary Clooney performed at Chandler Center for the Arts in 2000 and singer/songwriter/musician Chaka Khan took the stage there in 2001.

Mac Lennan, who is in her 20th year working at the Chandler Center for the Arts, said it was thrilling to meet Clooney and watch Chaka Khan perform.

“She was amazing,” she said of Clooney. “What a voice. She was lovely. We’ve had a lot of legends over the years.”

Of Chaka Khan, Mac Lennan said “I was so excited because I’m an R&B fan.”

The 2019-2020 season will also be “star-studded,” she said.

Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge will perform at the Chandler Center for the Arts on July 13.

In honor of the three-decades in operation, the arts center will throw it back to the 1980s with Strangelove – The Depeche Mode Experience, which will perform with special guest This Charming Band on August 24 at the arts center.

Strangelove – The Depeche Mode Experience performs songs from New Wave-goth band Depeche Mode while This Charming Band plays songs The Smiths created, as well as The Smiths’ lead singer, Morrissey in his solo work.

Then on Aug. 25, Hollywood legend John Cusack will visit the Chandler Center for the Arts. The 1989 classic movie he starred in, “Say Anything,” will be screened and then Cusack will talk afterwards about his 40-year career and share behind-the-scenes details about his breakout role as Lloyd Dobler in the movie.

A gala for the 25th anniversary will continue the festivities on Oct. 26 at the arts center. Guests will dine and see a show at the celebration.