▶️ Art enthusiasts take steps toward new Bend performance center

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Walk around Bend, and it won’t take long to find a stage of some kind.

But one local group believes there’s one stage still missing from the Central Oregon arts scene. 

The Central Oregon Center for the Arts, a performing and visual arts center, is an idea more than 20 years in the making. 

“We’d like it to be a gathering place in the community that’s going to be in business 24/7 year round,” said board member Jon Thompson. 

The proposed center would give artists a stage to call their own. 

“For me, trying to schedule out guest artists, we like to know those things anywhere from six months to two years ahead,” said Michael Gesme, conductor of the Central Oregon Symphony and a music professor at Central Oregon Community College. “I’m lucky if I can book things out three or four months in advance.

“A facility that is not tied to one thing, it is more tied to who would like to use the space and you can book your dates…that would be a wonderful step in a direction that I’ve never experienced,” he added. 

Thompson said the board believes Bend might benefit from a facility that could operate in all seasons and could seat a larger number of people than is currently available. 

“Right now the symphony performs at Bend High School, but they’re highly dependent on the high school schedule,” he said. “They don’t have the acoustics. The Tower, which we all just adore…it’s a bit small, 460 seats about. So we think there’s a gap there for a modern facility with perhaps a backstage that would allow us to fly scenery. Perhaps an orchestra pit, we just don’t know yet.” 

Those gaps in the plan are the reason the board hired the national firm Arts Consulting Group to perform what they call a ‘discovery study’ in order to find out what it would feasibly look like to build and operate the center, including the financial aspect. 

“The first stage we’re working on now is to raise the moneys needed to pay for this discovery study,” Thompson said. “Once we know what we’re going to do and we know what the need is, then we’ll get a capitol campaign underway. That certainly will involve grants.” 

The crucial next step in the process is gaining public feedback, which they will receive at town hall meetings held next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at Wille Hall at the Central Oregon Community College campus. 

“It will give the public, interested people out there from the arts communities, the business and realtor communities, and the general public, give them a chance to be in sessions dedicated to their interests to tell us how they foresee this being useful to them,” Thompson added. 

Those interested can visit cocarts.org to sign up to attend the town hall meetings and share their opinions on the idea through a survey. 

“We’d like it to be reflective of the community’s needs and desires in terms of live entertainment,” Johnson said. 

“We need to have that feedback because we’re not going to go forward with anything unless we know what’s possible,” Gesme added. 

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