Coming Soon: A New Arts Venue for Mason and the Region

Posted: May 1, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Multipurpose performance hall
The design for the multipurpose performance hall in the new community performing arts center is reminiscent of a 19th century Italian opera house.

By Robin Herron

In keeping with its distributed university plan, George Mason will soon have “distributed” cultural arts in the form of a new community performing arts center at the Prince William Campus.

William Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), says there are three major segments of the Prince William community that will benefit from the new center: local arts organizations, arts patrons and businesses.

William Reeder
William Reeder
Creative Services photo

“It will be home to the Prince William Symphony, the Youth Orchestras of Prince William, the Manassas Dance Company – it’s fundamentally a space for their work.”

Reeder explains that the Prince William area has grown and that the demographics now demonstrate “a dynamic arts market for a ‘great performances’ series akin to what we do in Fairfax.”

Finally, the center will provide “a very, very important business space,” Reeder says. With its 10,000-square-foot grand foyer, the center can be used for dinners, receptions and other corporate gatherings.

On the educational side, the center doubles the opportunities for Mason performing arts and arts management students. “For example, if you want to have a career in arts management, you can land right here, work in the box office at either center and learn what goes on behind the scenes,” Reeder points out.

All of this will become reality in just a few short years. A “soft” opening planned for spring 2009 will serve as a rehearsal for the formal opening that fall, says Brian Marcus, associate dean of development for CVPA.

In the meantime, there’s a lot to be done: get the construction designs finalized and approved by the state, set up an executive board to develop center policies and meet a fundraising goal of $15 million.

exterior of community performing arts center
The community performing arts center will project a dramatic presence from the street level.

A Centerpiece for the Community

Like the Center for the Arts on the Fairfax Campus, the new community performing arts center will offer a range of facilities to accommodate world-renowned performers as well as local productions, educational and social events and business and community meetings.

However, with its smaller, more intimate performance hall offering loge-style seating as opposed to the auditorium-style layout of the Fairfax venue, the new center will be “a very special complement to the Center for the Arts,” Reeder says.

And according to utilization patterns that have been studied, “We think this building will be used almost every available day,” he adds.

These features will be contained in a dramatic copper, glass and brick building that will be a showpiece itself:

  • A 1,166-seat, four-level performance hall architecturally reminiscent of a 19th century Italian opera house.
  • Two practice studios and a rehearsal and performance studio.
  • A two-story grand foyer that can be used for community dinners, receptions and other social, civic and business events.
  • Support facilities such as dressing rooms, scene shops and wardrobe areas.
  • Multipurpose meeting spaces that will accommodate the conference, social and special events needs of community, business, civic and service organizations, with formal banquet seating for more than 300 people and reception space for more than 600 people.
  • A planned future expansion that will provide an intimate 300-seat “flexible theater.”

grand foyer of the community performing arts center
The grand foyer will have space for sit-down dinners and receptions when it’s not doing lobby duty.

The architects are Holzman Moss Architecture and HughesGroup Architects, both firms that have experience designing performance spaces and educational facilities.

A University-Community Partnership

Modeled after the successful partnership that developed the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center on the Prince William Campus, the new $36 million, 96,000-square-foot center is being built with the resources of the university, Prince William County and the City of Manassas. A $15 million private sector fundraising campaign will create an endowment to help meet operating costs.

The original plan was to wait until $7.5 million had been raised from donors, but to keep the momentum going as well as combat rising construction costs, all parties recently agreed that moving ahead with the commitments in hand and verbally pledged – including $3.6 million from donors to date – was the sensible route.

A symbol of that momentum will be a ceremonial groundbreaking on Wednesday, June 7, at the site. More than the ritual shovel-in-the-ground “photo op,” the groundbreaking will provide “a flavor of what’s in store” for patrons of the new center, says Marcus. Snippets of jazz, classical and bluegrass music selections as well as a dance performance will liven up the ceremony.

In addition, major donors will be recognized. Marcus says the fundraising committee headed by Marvin Gillum, former mayor of the City of Manassas, and Kathleen Seefeldt, former chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, expects to generate interest with its “take a seat” campaign that puts donors’ names on seats in the performance hall’s orchestra section for a $2,500 contribution.

Although it will be awhile until an actual steam shovel moves dirt at the site – March of 2007 is the projected date for that to happen – Marcus says a sign announcing the center’s coming will be placed at the corner of University Boulevard and the Prince William Parkway as a constant reminder of the exciting development.

For more information about the center and ways to donate, see the web site or call 703-993-8492.

rehearsal/performance studio
The rehearsal/performance studio is another multipurpose space in the new center.
Renderings by Holzman Moss Architecture/HughesGroup Architects

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