On February 17, the Central Oregon Center for the Arts Executive Board announced a plan to build a regional, visual and performing arts center, aptly named the Central
Oregon Center for the Arts (COCA), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Included among the many amenities envisioned for this comprehensive and flexible arts center are the
following: a theater large enough to accommodate touring Broadway shows; a smaller, more intimate indoor theater; a multipurpose “black-box” performance/display space;
classrooms, shops, rehearsal and storage spaces; teaching, work and gallery spaces for the visual arts and space for educational and diversity outreach programs.
The projected cost for such a facility could be up to $100 million or more, reports Laura Thompson, COCA board president, a cost that would be financed by grants, donations and a capital campaign. COCA’s Executive Board is a coalition of professional and business people, educators, musicians and patrons of the arts who believe that it is time for a modern, multi-use, single-campus, visual and performing arts center in Central Oregon. Its members include Laura Thompson, president, Board of Directors; Trish Sewell, secretary, Board of Directors; Jon Thompson, chair, Communications Committee; Michael Gesme, conductor of the Central Oregon Symphony and professor of music at Central Oregon Community College; Larry Sewell, retired LAPD police lieutenant; Katrina Hays, professional opera singer and actress and Valerie Pitts, 40-year veteran educator and superintendent of schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their shared goal is a world-class facility designed to serve the region’s cultural needs, a facility that would provide a seven-day-a-week gathering place for artists and teachers to share their knowledge, vision and voice via music, theater, dance, photography, sculpture, exhibitions,installations, lectures, workshops and all other manners of creative expression. “The size and shape of this thing is amorphous at the moment,” Jon Thompson states, “which is why we’re going about this project in an organized, rational and logical fashion.” “We have a set of guidelines from a feasibility study done in 2002, a life-time
Bend has grown exponentially, and it continues to do that. We’ve roughed out what we’d like to do, and now we’re in the midst of choosing a supplier for a comprehensive
feasibility study. What’s possible? What will the community support? What are its needs?” Thompson shares. The community Thompson refers to is that of Central Oregon, a community rapidly on the rise. In terms of numbers, Central Oregon has seen growth of more than 546 percent in the past 45 years; Bend’s growth rate exceeds that of the state. By 2025, Deschutes County is projected to have a population of more than 240,000. Neighboring counties Crook and Jefferson are growing almost as quickly.
More people bring more needs, and research conducted by the COCA Executive Board indicates that the dynamic pace of Central Oregon’s growth has outstripped the capacity
and availability of the venues present in the area for the many musicians, vocalists, actors and other artists who live and perform here. Such venues include The Tower Theatre, Les Schwab Amphitheater and auditoriums like that of Bend Senior High. The deficit of performance space limits the scope of local artists’ productions and also
severely restricts the type and size of shows/exhibitions, acts and performances “on-tour” from appearing in the community. Additionally, the growth of special events such
as TEDx, Bend Design and the Author! Author! lecture series is being constrained by the lack of adequately sized venues, the report concludes. It is not the goal of COCA to
supplant the venues currently available in Central Oregon, the Board offers, but rather to work in cooperation with them for the betterment of the arts in Central Oregon.
Developing an environment offering a constant variety of artistic, cultural and educational experiences, the Board proposes, not only creates a dynamic opportunity to inspire and unite our local community, but also becomes another compelling attraction drawing industry and commerce, and thus jobs, to Central Oregon. In 2015, Arts and Culture nonprofit groups in Central Oregon added more than $34.7 million to the economy. In addition, for-profit promoters and venues add several million dollars more
annually. This value will continue to increase as the population grows, the Board claims. Models for such a multi-disciplinary, contemporary performing and visual arts center
abound, for example, the Tempe Center for the Arts in Arizona, The Gallo Center in California and the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts in New York. The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, located in Beaverton, Oregon, is similar to the proposed COCA. Such models provide valuable information regarding what will and won’t work.
Thus, in addition to performance and exhibition spaces planned for COCA, the center would include space dedicated to support arts education as well as arts-related retail
space plus flexible spaces for receptions, meetings and community gatherings. Restaurants and food services would provide for both daily dining and performance-day
concessions. The multi-functional design of the center is the practical solution to the problem of many performing arts theaters, the Board argues, that is, sitting empty for
long periods, a stasis which foregoes other commercial opportunities and ancillary revenue. Having long-term anchor tenants like restaurants, retailers and educational
programs would help distribute facility overhead costs and make venue rental more affordable for local and touring artists and professionals, according to Board members.
“This project is a project for all the residents of Central Oregon,” Board President Laura Thompson states. “It will be a comfortable and welcoming campus for local, national,
and international artists of all disciplines and for those who appreciate and patronize the arts. It will create jobs and contribute to the area’s cultural life and financial well-being. Its programs will be welcoming, accessible and inclusive, and will greatly enhance cultural and artistic life here. But building it won’t be easy. Nevertheless, we have
composed a plan culminating in a new facility that could open as soon as 2026. We will need the help and patience of everyone as we, together, friends, colleagues, neighbors
and residents of Central Oregon, work to make this happen,” Thompson concludes. Stay tuned for further updates on the COCA as the feasibility report is conducted and
public reports become available.