VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University received initial support for a brand new, state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center designed to enhance the arts, tourism, and economic development in South Georgia when the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia recommended $1.3 million in design-phase funding on Tuesday.
The Board of Regents recommendation now goes to the Office of the Governor for further consideration before the start of the 2019 legislative session.
“The Performing Arts Center project reflects VSU’s unwavering commitment to leading development in and serving as a resource for the arts in South Georgia,” shared Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of VSU. “We know this project will also allow Peach State Summer Theatre to fully live up to its role as Georgia’s Official Musical Theatre and to make Valdosta a tourism destination each year.”
The proposed Performing Arts Center will be located adjacent to VSU’s Rea and Lillian Steele North Campus, in the area formerly known as Ashley Cinemas near the intersection of Ashley Street and Northside Drive. It will feature approximately 40,000 square feet of performance, rehearsal, instructional, and office space for the VSU Theatre area, as well as ample surface parking and enhanced visibility and accessibility to residents and visitors in the greater Valdosta community.
“We believe public investment in a facility such as this on Ashley Street can lead to related private investment to help further develop the area,” added Carvajal.
Alan Sanderson, associate director of facilities planning at VSU, said that the design phase typically lasts one academic year. The next phase would involve the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia recommending construction funding for the project, which could happen as early as Fall 2019.
Assuming no delays, the new Performing Arts Center could open its doors as early as the 2021-2022 academic year, Carvajal said. It will cost an estimated $18 million, including $5 million from private funds to be raised as part of VSU’s capital campaign — Invest. Ignite. Inspire. The Campaign for Valdosta State University.
Carvajal said that a new Performing Arts Center would greatly enhance VSU’s ability to support regional tourism efforts, both through the regular season theatre productions and Peach State Summer Theatre, which has been producing professional theatre since 1990 and was designated by the Georgia Legislature as the Official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia. He said it would also contribute to efforts to protect and nurture the university’s commitment to creative excellence.
“As the flagship institution of higher education in South Georgia, we are committed to making this area the very best place to live, learn, work, and play now and for generations to come,” said Carvajal. “This new Performing Arts Center will definitely help us live up to that commitment.”
Jacque Wheeler, chairwoman of Theatre and Dance at VSU, said that a new Performing Arts Center would also make the university more competitive in recruiting, retaining, and graduating highly talented students.
The VSU Theatre area is currently located on the university’s Main Campus in the Fine Arts Building, which was constructed in 1969. According to the proposed project plans, the performance spaces in this building — Whitehead Auditorium, Sawyer Theatre, and Lab Theatre — have substandard functional quality, inadequate size and clearance, and poor sound insulation and control, and are shared by multiple disciplines.
The instructional programs have outgrown the space both physically and technologically. Scheduling is increasingly difficult with opera, symphony, theatre, and dance performances, as well as student and guest music recitals and Peach State Summer Theatre all requiring the venues, which cannot be used simultaneously due to sound control issues. Adequate shop space is needed to allow students to design and build sets safely, and a modern theater configuration will allow students to develop a full set of professional competencies.
The quality and suitability of space for the VSU College of the Arts had been identified as the most significant deficiency in a recently completed facilities master plan. The new Performing Arts Center — together with the recently funded renovation of Powell Hall for use by the Department of Music — will go a long way to addressing that need.
“The university recognizes the value the performing arts brings to the region,” said A. Blake Pearce, dean of the College of the Arts. “Newly realized spaces for theatre will address accreditation requirements for the program, allowing us to deliver high quality instruction and to expand and improve the experience for our audiences. We are very excited about the potential these new performance venues can bring to VSU.”
The VSU Theatre area, a unit of the university’s Department of Communication Arts, is committed to fostering excellence within its theatre performance, theatre production, theatre management, and musical theatre programs while also contributing to the lifelong learning and cultural development of the citizens of South Georgia, North Florida, and beyond.
PHOTO: The old Ashley Cinemas facility and parking lot are shown in the bottom right section of this aerial photograph, the site of a proposed Performing Arts Center at Valdosta State University