It's past time for city performing arts center is overdue

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2005


The Alaska Observer

These days there are many discussions about building new things in Juneau. Some of these (the road to Skagway) are really excellent ideas, while others (the possible new capitol on Telephone Hill) are not in the community's best interest. One idea I support wholeheartedly is the construction of a Performing Arts Center (PAC) in Alaska's capital city.

I must disclose at the outset that I am a member of the Board of Trustees of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (JAHC), the arts agency for the city. JAHC favors building the PAC, and potentially could manage such a facility once built. Bruce Botelho, the mayor of Juneau, asked JAHC to have some of its board members serve on a PAC commission to explore the need for a new arts facility, where it might go, how much it might cost, how to pay for it, and other related questions. Two of my board colleagues and JAHC staff have been working with the PAC commission on these matters, and the mayor recently asked me to serve alongside them, to which request I naturally said, "yes." As I write this column, I have not yet attended my first commission meeting, but I will have by the time you read it.

Juneau really needs the PAC. We have a thriving arts community which brings a great array of all forms of art to those of us lucky enough to call Juneau home. Particularly in the field of performing arts, we get to see a lot of quality productions, local and imported, for a town of 30,000. From theatre to dance, global in scope and homegrown in fundamental origins, each season there's something wonderful to see almost every weekend. But we have a problem housing all this activity. I can cite examples from personal experience. As we plan a concert season for JAHC, we have to be very careful in working with the Juneau Symphony, the Juneau-Douglas High School Drama Department, and Juneau Jazz & Classics - to name but a few groups - so that we can all squeeze into the limited venue presented by the high school auditorium. The churches are an option, but are limited in size and adaptability. At the end of the day, we are able to bring fewer shows to Juneau, and it is harder to make shows succeed, because of the limitations we face in production space.

Over at Perseverance Theatre in Douglas space is also tight. I must again disclaim a bias, in that I recently had the pleasure of appearing in a show on the second stage there, and we couldn't accommodate audience demand on a number of occasions. Of course I was delighted people wanted to see the show, but at the same time I felt bad that the house wasn't big enough for the increased demand for seats. The main stage at Perseverance also fills up quite often, even with productions there running for relatively long periods. Perseverance is doing its next show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in the Hangar Ballroom, which is a great cabaret space, but the use of which again illustrates the level of demand for performing arts space in Juneau.

I am sure many readers are thinking, "can we afford this?" This question is never far from my mind. I think we can, if we are careful to delineate construction and operation costs, and then take great care to have viable plans to pay for both adequately. We should support the devotion of sales-tax revenue to defray capital costs, in conjunction with other one-time funding sources. We should also consider that it might be best if operating costs are met by revenues from the use of the facility. The city already has a lot of ongoing expenses for things the public enjoys, like Eaglecrest and the swimming pool. I don't want to burden those entities when I think it's possible for us to build the PAC and have it pay for itself.

I am sure those already at work on planning the PAC have mapped out a great number of worthy directions in which we may head. I am very excited to be joining them for this noble task. I hope all the people of Juneau will take the opportunity to consider how much the performing arts in this great city could benefit from a place dedicated to their enjoyment. I think, upon reflection, this idea is among the best we've had in a long time.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Juneau.

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