Editorial: Performing arts recommendation hits its mark

A recent study on building a new performing arts center in Columbus may have had an unhappy ending for some, but its recommendation to better promote and utilize the community’s existing venues hit its mark.

International consultants Theatre Projects was commissioned by Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County to explore the feasibility of a new performing arts center here, and the 823 people who responded to an online survey demonstrate the strong local interest in the subject.

But for a host of compelling reasons, the consultants counseled against pursuing a new performing arts center that could come with a price tag of $60 million of so. Instead, the report recommended hiring a staff member to help build relationships with booking agents “to accelerate the expansion of arts and culture offerings” at existing venues in the city while “continuing to test the market for which entertainment types are most viable,” The Republic’s Andy East reported.

“This will facilitate the full utilization of existing venues and accelerate the expansion of arts and culture offerings,” Theatre Projects states in its study. “The data gleaned from this initial phase will inform the next decision about whether to build a new performing arts center or undertake a significant restoration of the Crump Theatre. Either will require significant capital and operational funding and should not be pursued without a clear, deliberate and strong case and approach.”

We agree and believe further that either approach also must require a groundswell of grassroots advocacy and broad community support. Frankly, aside from an effort to save the Crump, neither has yet made any kind of grand entrance.

Instead, we have an abundance of established, talented and dedicated local performing artists and groups with fairly established performance spaces in small to mid-sized venues ranging from Helen Haddad Hall to The Commons to either the East or North high school auditoriums or elsewhere. There may be scheduling conflicts at some of these venues during busy times, but how often are are booking conflicts a problem?

A dedicated professional as the study advocates for would be able to answer such questions and help maximize the use of existing local venues while also promoting Columbus as an appreciative destination for performing artists.

Meantime, Columbus also faces a very real geographical problem in the context of performing arts: We are less than an hour drive to a plethora of major venues, from Brown County Music Center and the offerings in Bloomington to those in Indianapolis. This alone limits Columbus’ ability to attract touring artists.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an appetite for more arts offerings on local stages. The study bears this out. As East reported, members of the public said they want more entertainment and performance opportunities — including the younger highly skilled workers that local officials hope to draw to the community.

That can happen, and we applaud the study’s recommendations that provide a clear-eyed road map to how our community can improve our performing arts offerings and opportunities by optimizing and accentuating what we already have.