Supporters of the visual arts have spoken out repeatedly at Hoover town hall meetings on Wednesday about an arts hub for the city, saying they hope the visual arts will not be forgotten as people discuss the desire for a new performing arts venue.
A group of consultants working for the City of Hoover held two town halls at the Hoover Library Theater attended by about 65 people in person and about 25 more online, a library official said.
Billy Pennington, a 40-year-old Hoover resident, told consultants who held Wednesday’s meetings that people were constantly talking about the need for a visual arts center. There have been active discussions about building a new arts center in Hoover over the past four to five years, and the visual arts were first included in those discussions, Pennington said.
“It seems to me that I hear more and more ‘center for the performing arts’. It seems the visual arts are being left out of thought, even consideration, ”Pennington said. “We need galleries. We need studios. We need classes where art lessons can be taught to adults and children. We need space for conferences. We need space for the permanent art collections as well as the outstanding art collections, and hopefully that could stay in this mega-facility one way or another.
The Hoover Public Library and Aldridge Gardens both have art galleries, but the spaces are small and not suited to needs, he said.
Amanda Knight, an elementary school art teacher, agreed with the need for more space. She noted that while exhibition areas generally require large spaces, artists can often work in smaller studios, and these studios can be used for multiple purposes. For example, an artist studio could also be used as a make-up room for performing artists who would use the same facility, she said.
Victor Gotesman, the performing arts planning consultant hired by the city to analyze the city’s arts center needs, said the message from the visual arts community was strong and had been heard. “We will not ignore it,” he said.
Nothing has been predetermined as to what types of spaces should be in the center, but at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to cost and how best to use the funds available, Gotesman said.
Sandra Fuller, a visual artist with the Hoover Arts Council, said the importance of the visual arts was taken into consideration when the council chose a name for a new installation. It’s called the Hoover Center for the Arts, she said.
Carlos Izcaray, the musical director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, said that when he attends a performing arts performance, he also enjoys experiencing the visual arts. This can be accomplished with an art gallery that people can view upon arrival and departure from the performing arts show, he said. With creativity, the two can be combined, he said.
The team of consultants in attendance on Wednesday were eager to hear what size facility people think Hoover needs.
Izcaray said the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s largest series – its Masterworks series – is currently taking place at Birmingham’s Alys Stephens Center, which can seat around 1,300 people.
Their typical classical orchestra has 50 to 60 people, while a “romantic” concert has around 70 to 80 in the orchestra, he said. If Hoover wanted to host an orchestra that could deliver a “boom” performance, the size could be closer to 100, he said.
The Alabama Symphony Orchestra also has a choir that ranges from 50 to 80 people, he said.
Betty Wilson, music teacher at Deer Valley Primary School, minister of children’s music at Riverchase United Methodist Church and soloist with the Alabama Civic Chorale, noted that the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham and the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center in Auburn both seat around 1,300 people indoors and the Auburn Center has an outdoor space that can accommodate 2,500 people.
She believes an arts center in Hoover needs to be at least as large as these facilities to be competitive and to attract quality performing artists, she said. Also, it needs to be at least as large to accommodate crowds of community and school performing arts groups, she said.
Wilson also said people were willing to travel to see a good performance, noting that she was heading to performances in Nashville, Atlanta, Chattanooga and Montgomery.
Pam Merkel Sayle, owner of the Alabama Dance Academy in Hoover, said her academy has been around for about 27 years, serves several hundred students and has never been able to perform in Hoover because there is no installation with a stage or audience capacity that is large enough. Her academy is due to perform in Birmingham or other parts of Shelby County, but she thinks it would be wonderful for her students to be able to perform in their own community.
Ron Bourdages, executive director of the Birmingham Music Club, which has been around for about 116 years and started the Alabama Symphony in the 1930s, said his club would certainly be interested in a new performance center in Hoover.
The club offer a variety of types of performances and are always looking for more places to perform, he said. A capacity of around 500 seats would be good for their performance, he said.
Bourdages also noted that the backstage arrangements make a big difference to his club as it sometimes has a large number of boys and girls who need separate places to change costumes.
Randi Bourdages, ticket coordinator for the Birmingham Music Club, asked Gotesman if the consultants were considering having one stage or multiple stages. Gotesman said he was playing with the idea of an area that could accommodate 1,000 to 1,200 people and a second, smaller “black box” space. However, none of this has been determined yet, he said.
Gotesman said he took the information he learned from Wednesday’s town hall meetings and combined it with discussions he had had with various arts groups in the community and other research he was conducting to develop a recommendation regarding the size of the facility, the types of space required in the facility and the cost of operating the facility.
He plans to complete his part of the work by the end of January, he said. Next, a company called TheatreDNA will evaluate the programming of the centre’s spaces, the architects at Live Design will develop a design proposal, and a company called Cost Consulting Services will analyze the cost of the chosen design options.
The full study is expected to be completed by the end of March and presented to Hoover officials for review, said Michael Ferguson of TheatreDNA.
Gotesman said the driving force behind Hoover seems to be the desire to have a performance facility closer to home. His recommendation will take that into account, along with other market factors, he said.
A new arts center in Hoover would inherently compete with other arts facilities in the metro area, but it will look for ways to bring Hoover something that complements existing facilities as well, he said.
Ferguson said the idea is to dream big, but don’t forget the cost considerations.
“We try to be as realistic as possible and practical,” he said. “You have to be able to build it, and you have to be able to make it work and afford it. This is critical. You can dream the impossible dream, but it won’t do anyone good. The tax base is only that big.