By Kelly Johnson
Many of us have been patiently waiting for the moment when we can safely gather at live performances. As we inch closer to this often dreamed of moment, you might be wondering what's been happening at the venues in downtown Eugene. Many local theaters, concert halls and performance spaces have invested in the future of performance and arts education in our community.
Since its grand opening in 1982, the Hult Center for Performing Arts has been a beacon of entertainment, culture and education. We haven't been able to attend a show at the Hult in about a year, but this 38-year-old Eugene institution has not been hibernating. Instead, the center's staff has made improvements that will help patrons at home connect to performances and enhance experiences at the Hult when it's safe to reopen.
The Hult Center has upgraded its Wi-fi system and network infrastructure and is now connected to EugNet, a high-speed fiber-optic network. This upgrade provides maximum coverage and efficiency for the center and its productions and patrons. An extra perk is that now there's enough bandwidth to allow you to post a quick selfie or rave review from inside the concert hall. New equipment, such as mobile lights, expand the creative opportunities for local organizations and touring productions and reduces time and costs for set-up and programming.
The Center has obtained professional quality live-stream and recording technologies, enabling the broadcast of performances from its stages. This new technology will help resident companies, like the Eugene Symphony and other arts groups, continue producing their work during this time of social distancing. Live-stream options will also provide broader access to arts and culture through the center's Education and Engagement program, including offerings to rural communities, schools and nursing homes.
The center has invested in an LED video wall, further enhancing cost-efficiency and expanding the center's capability of booking a wider array of touring productions and allowing local performing arts groups to explore new production values and artistic possibilities. Finally, the Hult has implemented new ticketing, website and point-of-sale systems to provide the most welcoming and inclusive home-to-seat experience for guests, every time.
"Our vision is to be a cultural force that creates shared experiences which transform, engage and unite,” General Manager Theresa Sizemore said. “Investing in these technologies provides so much more opportunity for organizations to bring their transformative vision to the stage and for the center to serve in excellence, welcoming and connecting all people to the arts, to the Hult and to each other,"
The team at the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts has been diligently working to improve performance spaces and its music school. Before COVID-19, this historic and beloved venue would typically draw more than 75,000 annual visitors. The Shedd began renovating the former First Baptist Church in 2002, when it moved in. If you were lucky enough to see a performance at The Shedd before the pandemic, you probably experienced the beautiful Jaqua Concert Hall, which was renovated in 2017 with improved seating and sightlines.
The Shedd has been an innovator in improving the experience of patrons who are hearing impaired by installing hearing loop technology in the concert hall and other spaces. This technology enhances the experience of people with hearing loss as they buy tickets, attend performances, receive music instruction or participate in a meeting. The Shedd also has become an advisor for other businesses or arts groups interested in hearing loops.
Last Spring, a renovation of The Shedd's 29 music school classrooms improved lighting, heating, cooling, and security systems. Hearing loop technology was installed in the classrooms, which also were soundproofed.
"Now, all the rooms can be used simultaneously," said Education Director Ginevra Ralph. "The trumpet lesson won't bleed downstairs to the choir class. This has tripled our capacity to serve students of all ages for lifelong music making. It's never too late to start."
An extensive renovation of the northeast corner of The Shedd's building is the next major improvement. This work will replace the building's challenging, multi-step main entry with a new, accessible ground-level entrance and an elevator next to The Shedd's parking lot. These improvements will improve the experience of patrons with mobility limitations.
The Cultural Advocacy Coalition has recommended that The Shedd's north entrance renovation receive state funding, one of 11 recommended projects in the 2021-2023 budget. You can call your state legislator and advocate for this exciting project.
With public health at top of mind, a newer venue, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is making improvements to welcome you back. OCT installed an ionization filtration system to its heating and cooling system that kills bacteria and virus molecules. The theater is installing touchless faucets in restrooms.
Arts and culture are economic drivers. Take a minute to think about the last time you went to a performance or concert. Beyond buying tickets, you might have grabbed dinner, paid for parking or hired a babysitter. The investments in our performing arts venues will help reignite downtown, and benefit restaurants and other small businesses.
While we are still waiting to sit together in a darkened theater and revel in the joy of live performance, it is heartening to know that the venues will be better than ever and accessible to all when we do.
Kelly Johnson is the executive director of the Arts & Business Alliance of Eugene.
Hult Center for the Performing Arts Director Theresa Sizemore describes the facility’s recent upgrades that were made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hult spent the down period upgrading technology infrastructure and buying equipment, including the LED video wall in the background.
Hult Center for the Performing Arts Director of Theater and Facility Operation Jeff Weinkauf, center, looks at the new LED video wall in the Silva Concert Hall.