A weekly rundown of the latest news in Austin's visual and performing arts scene.
By Robert Faires, Fri., Feb. 16, 2001
Getting a Long
With so much already invested in the campaign to transform Palmer Auditorium into a 21st-century performing-arts palace -- a 1998 vote on the matter with the project heartily endorsed by the citizenry, months of planning, discussions, and design work, $48 million in private donations raised, etc. -- it isn't as if the future of the Long Center for the Performing Arts is in doubt. You know the center will happen. Still, when the cover is lifted on a scale model of the re-imagined facility, and Long Center is right there before you in three dimensions, it feels like a sudden shift has taken place, that this project of many years has just bolted from conceptual "if" to inevitable "when." That was the charge that came out of the Monday, Feb. 12, press conference held by Arts Center Stage. The nonprofit that has spearheaded the drive to reinvent the Great Green Turtle of Auditorium Shores called it to make public the Long Center's completed designs, in elaborate painting-size computer renderings, in schematic blueprints, and in 3-D. Following introductory comments by Arts Center Stage chairman Ben Bentzin, Hizzoner Kirk Watson, and local force for architecture Wayne Bell, Leigh Breslau, the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design partner who took the lead on the Long Center project, gave a brief overview of the design. He revealed a new facility that, far from rejecting the modernism of the civic auditorium's original design, embraces the Fifties-era clean lines, spare presentation, and geometric monumentality, even as it finds ways to add warmth and intimacy to a venue that has come to feel about as cool and impersonal as a bunker. The outer shell retains the large curved expanse of glass that enables visitors to enjoy the natural splendors of Town Lake Park from inside. But that inside is opened up dramatically, with a lobby more than 150 feet wide and 100 feet deep, with the overhead space open to the dome some 75 feet up. It creates what Breslau calls "a living room for the city." The two larger theatres include box seating along the sides, allowing for the audience to be brought closer to the stage and enjoy a more intimate experience. Though the Long still shouts out the modernist reverence for space, much of the geometric ornamentation, particularly in a spectacular trellis that hangs over the audience in the main concert hall, suggests the grace and elegance of Art Deco as much as it does the imposing starkness of postwar modernism. This is a place where any Austinite will be able to feel at home.
As if the design unveiling weren't enough Long Center excitement for one week, Arts Center Stage also announced this week that Michael and Susan Dell are donating $10 million from their personal foundation to the creation of the arts center. In the Long Center campaign, that gift is second only in magnitude to the $20 million given by husband and wife Joe R. Long and Teresa Lozano Long that earned them the honor of having the center named for them. The Dells' gift will be commemorated by having the Long Center's 2,300-seat main theatre named the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation Hall. That means all three of the center's performing spaces will be named for Dell executives and their spouses; the 720-seat intermediate space is being named for Angela and Mort Topfer, and the 250-seat flexible space is being named for Debra and Kevin Rollins. With this gift in place, Arts Center Stage surpasses the 65% mark in its campaign to raise $89 million in private donations to fund the creation of the Long Center. The transformation of the center is set to begin in 2002. For more information, visit www.artscenterstage.org .