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$11 million venue expected to change local art scene

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Jan. 11, 2011 at 5 p.m.
Updated Jan. 10, 2011 at 7:11 p.m.

ABOVE: Symphony members tour the new $11 million Victoria Fine Arts Center. The auditorium is scheduled to be completed in the next two weeks, includes a retractable orchestra pit built into the stage.

IF YOU GO WHEN: 7 p.m., Feb. 3

WHERE: Victoria Fine Arts Center, 1102 Sam Houston Drive.

COST: $10

WHAT: The VISD Education Foundation will host the center's first event. The night will feature more than 350 students from Victoria East and West high schools band, choir and dance groups and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble. The ensemble is directed by Jerry Junkin, a Victoria High School alumnus who will be inducted into the district's first hall of honor. His father Fred Junkin, a former district band director, will also be inducted into the hall.

Tickets and info: Tickets can be purchased at Tee's Music House, Collins Music Center and Navratil Music Company. For more information call 361-788-9271.

DID YOU KNOW? The Victoria Fine Arts Center was designed by the architect firm SHW Group. The same group designed the high schools, Aquatics Center and Cade Middle School.

The center has a small kitchen, backstage makeup room, showers for performers and a laundry room.

The center's $68,000 Steinway grand piano has its own temperature-controlled room backstage.

The 112-by-43 feet stage is made of a sandwich of plywood and Masonite that's meant to help absorb shock for dancers.

The venue is the second largest theater in Victoria. Only Faith Family Church, with seating of about 2,325 is larger.

The building leases to nonschool district groups for about $200 an hour plus a deposit and other fees.

The school district's new $11 million fine arts center combines swanky architecture with hi-tech features that many believe will bolster the local art scene.

The center, scheduled to be completed in the next two weeks, holds two-levels of seating for nearly 1,500, a giant stage, projection screens and an orchestra pit.

The facility is needed for the district's growing fine arts programs, which grew tremendously with the opening of three new schools.

"What it really adds for us is a dedicated-to-VISD-students venue," said Diane Boyett, district communications specialist. "While we want the community to use this center - because it's the Victoria Fine Arts Center - it's available to our students first and foremost."

The lobby will hold the district's first permanent student art display, and, eventually, trained theater students will operate parts of the lighting and sound equipment.

The facility also gives professional artists a stage.

"It provides a facility that can handle traveling shows, which could include operas and travelling professional musicals, possibly a film series with our projectors and screens," said Jay Lester, district fine arts director. "We're hoping to feature the building as much as we can."

The Victoria Symphony already moved its performances from the Victoria College Auditorium to the center this year.

"The technology capability of this new center will allow us, again, to broaden our performances and productions" said Michelle Hall, the group's executive director.

The center was built with funds from the district's $159 million bond package passed in 2007.

The facility is a mixture of contemporary architecture and practicality. Stained birch panels weave a pattern 40-feet above the audience and help shape the room's acoustics.

"No matter where you're sitting in the auditorium - up in the corner or down on the floor - the sound is the same depth and clarity," said Jason Blanco, project manager with SHW Group.

Spiral staircases wrap alongside the stage to the facility's 570-feet of dizzying catwalk. The space is lined with adjustable spotlights, which can be controlled from a computer-like panel below. Under the bottom-level seating, a trap door opens into a catacomb-like crawl space that groups can use to run audio or power wiring below the building.

The stage is 43 feet by 112 feet, and a layered mix of wood and Masonite keeps the area soft for performers, and an extra 20-foot space leaves room for the show to continue even when the curtains are down.

Mary Silky, director of a Shakespearean acting group at Dudley Magnet School, believes the venue will inspire future theater arts students.

"I think it would encourage them to continue to pursue dramatic arts," she said.

The group performs at the center in March, and for the first time will perform Shakespeare on a physical stage since the school does not have one.

"I think it would automatically improve the quality of their performance and the quality of their experience," she said.

The first performance in the building is Feb. 3, which will feature more than 350 performers, The University of Texas Wind Ensemble and the induction of local father-son musicians into the district's Hall of Honor.

The event is expected to sellout because of the performance size and excitement about the building.

"It's got that wow factor to it that just gives you that impression this is something the entire community can be very much proud of," Boyett said.

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