Proposed performing arts center seen as source of collaboration, competition
Hyannis, MA — Currents of excitement and optimism, and a tinge of wariness, flowed through the Mid-Cape arts community this week after announcement of the pending purchase of land to build a year-round, state-of-the-art performing arts center in the west end of Hyannis.
Local cultural and entertainment officials say they look forward to potential collaborations with the proposed Oceanside Performing Arts Center and praise the project’s expected expansion of area arts opportunities. They see a potential boon for area businesses, while hoping planners can be careful about competition.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Lauren Wolk, associate director of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, quoting a phrase that Cape cultural advocates use to describe how a wealth of arts can draw support to all. “Another great venue could enhance the cultural community, and bring people from all over the world, let alone Cape Cod, to experience culture here. I just hope they will plan very carefully to fill gaps rather than duplicate services.”
“Already, we all compete to some degree — for audiences, for donors,” noted David Kuehn, executive director at Cotuit Center for the Arts. But he sees “all kinds of opportunities” with the project because his center collaborates often with other groups (including a program next spring with Oceanside anchor tenant Cape Symphony) and Kuehn believes collaboration is key to the center fitting into the cultural landscape.
Margaret Van Sciver, president of Oceanside’s board of directors, agrees, saying in an email Friday that local arts organizations and schools are vital to the project’s overall plan. Oceanside wants to offer them discounted rental rates, she said.
“We are looking forward to conversations … to ascertain how we can be of the most value to them.”
Oceanside will first be home to the Cape Symphony (which gives about two dozen concerts per year for 25,000 audience members) and has an educational mission. In addition, organizers envision — in both a state-of-the-art concert hall and outdoor performance space — what Van Sciver described as “a variety of musical entertainment, such as pop, jazz, folk, country, bluegrass, chamber, opera, as well as Broadway musicals, popular headliners, comedians and lectures.”
“Bringing in touring shows and acts from around the region is good for the Cape Cod economy, as it keeps (and draws) people here, rather than having them spend their entertainment dollars in Boston or Providence,” Vana Trudeau, Tilden Arts Center and college events coordinator at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, said in an email. “A 1,500-plus (seat) performance space could mark Cape Cod’s return to that circuit.”
Pete Lally’s Lexington-based Spectacle Management company has produced an increasing number of Cape performances in recent years, including musician Gordon Lightfoot and radio storyteller-author Garrison Keillor at Barnstable High School last month and singer Art Garfunkel, who is coming to the college in a few weeks. Lally is excited about the Oceanside plan, in part because high demand for school properties has sometimes nixed hoped-for shows.
“I think it’s great that there’s another potential venue on the Cape,” he said. “If there was also an opportunity for us to use (the center), we would welcome that.”
Oceanside Performing Arts Center was established in 2013 as a nonprofit organization to get the center built, three years after the Cape Symphony and the Cape Conservatory merged to create what VanSciver said was the region’s largest arts organization: Cape Arts and Entertainment Inc., which also includes a youth orchestra and other music and education programs.
That group’s last annual fundraiser brought in more than $463,000 from more than 650 community donors, according to Van Sciver. Oceanside’s 19-member board of directors includes symphony maestro Jung-Ho Pak, plus nine people from the symphony board, eight of whom also serve on the conservatory board. That close working relationship is to “ensure the (Oceanside) project’s success as it moves forward,” Van Sciver said.
Proponents, however, do not want to affect other groups’ fundraising: “We feel confident that we are starting this project with a number of strong supporters and will be able to diversify our fundraising efforts in a way that will not impact, or pull from, other nonprofits.”
Few details are available on center timing and cost, but the 54-acre parcel that now houses the Resort and Conference Center at Hyannis and Twin Brooks Golf Course is assessed by Barnstable at $1.75 million for the land alone. Oceanside has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with The Finch Group Hotels & Resorts Inc. to buy 40 golf-course acres, or roughly three-quarters of the parcel. When asked whether the cost was at least three-quarters of the assessed value, Van Sciver replied, “Until the closing occurs, it would be premature to discuss matters of price.”
No design or capacity details are final, either, but observers believe the concert hall will be at least the 1,400 seats at Barnstable High that the symphony regularly fills to near-capacity.
That size would be good news to organizations that want to host big-name performers themselves but do not have enough seats to keep ticket prices affordable. Schools are sometimes used, officials noted, but problems include demand and a ban on alcohol.
“I can’t tell you how many people ask me, ‘Where can we have an event on Cape Cod where there are more than a couple of hundred seats?’” Wolk said. “A lot of us are constantly looking for places to do larger events.”
The college’s 650-seat Tilden Arts Center is the next-largest Mid-Cape venue used by local groups. And although the college has been increasing outside events, Trudeau and president John Cox are optimistic about what the Oceanside center could offer for performance space and educational opportunities for students there.
“I see these (entertainment) opportunities (at the college) continuing during, and possibly even benefiting from, the creation of the OPAC,” she said in an email. “And while I, and others here at CCCC, may have high hopes for a new, larger performing arts facility on our campus, the reality is that state funding will likely not support that kind of endeavor for many years.”
Other venues in potential competition with Oceanside would be Barnstable High, less than two miles down West Main Street, and the 2,300-seat Cape Cod Melody Tent, right across Scudder Avenue.
The symphony rents the high-school space for 29 rehearsals and 19 concerts for a contract of $36,343, according to David Kanyock, director of facilities for Barnstable schools. But almost all that money pays for expenses, he said, so the potential move would not hurt the school budget.
The Tent has since 1950 hosted big-name music, comedy and theater acts in the summer, including Cape Symphony the past two years. Van Sciver called the venue “a Cape Cod treasure,” and said she was “looking forward to working closely” with Tent officials “to explore ... opportunities arising from the development of a Mid-Cape theater district.”
Marketing director Deanna Lohnes said Tent officials had no information on the Oceanside plan. “Everything’s so new. We don’t have anything to say yet,” she said Thursday. After Van Sciver on Friday cited CEO-executive producer Vince Longo as the Tent official she has been talking to, the response to a call to his office was that Longo was unavailable for comment and inquiries should be made to Lohnes, who was out of the office.
This week’s purchase-and-sale agreement is an early step in what Van Sciver acknowledged will be a long process of discussions, permits and approvals before Oceanside can become a reality. She wants a lot of feedback as planning continues.
The announcement was made now so that “every aspect … from planning, to construction, to day-to-day operations, would be executed with the priorities and well-being of our Hyannis neighbors in mind,” she said.
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