A Space Odyssey, part 2: Dreaming Big

A Space Odyssey, part 2: Dreaming Big

This is part two of our series “A Space Odyssey” celebrating the creation of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (you can read part one here).  Be sure to join us this Saturday, August 27th, for the Rose Exposed celebration of Flight – a night to benefit the Tracy Aviary.  Click HERE for more information.

Dreaming Big

lcsWhen I assumed the position of Artistic Director in 1983 and learned that our barracks building up at the University of Utah was slated for demolition, I realized that Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) was experiencing both a funding and a space deficit. Friends, board members and community leaders advised us to establish a greater presence downtown. The Restaurant Equipment Supply Building, which occupied the area where this theater now sits, was identified as a prime site. The next 17 years proved challenging in trying to secure that location.

The first step in the process of designing a new home for ourselves was to dream. What would the ideal space look like? What activities could we develop in a larger facility? RDT needed to grow. We wanted to increase the number of home season performances, develop a school, sponsor other performing groups, present lectures, demonstrations, activities for children and seniors, and become more integrated into the life of the community.

We envisioned large rehearsal studios, efficient office space, a black-box theater and a state-of-the-art, intimate theater, perfect for modern dance. While setting our own priorities, we realized that other arts groups were also in need of space. It became clear that our ambitious goals could only be realized by forming partnerships and coalitions.

Many options for the relocation of the Company were analyzed including the following:

  • seeking another space within the University or finding another institution to host us
  • purchasing or leasing and remodeling a space somewhere in the valley
  • moving to another city or state
  • obtaining donated space from private, city, country or state organizations
  • building a new facility either alone or in partnership with another group

RDT’s Space Patrol 1983- 1997

In 1983, RDT formed a Facilities Planning Committee (FPC) to help develop a new facility. My husband Ivan Weber volunteered to chair the committee. Ivan was determined to find RDT a permanent home and spent the next 10 years dedicating his time and expertise toward helping the Company and other community arts groups secure space. He surveyed and analyzed over 100 potential buildings and researched performing arts centers throughout the United States. He gave RDT tenacity.

When Alice Steiner accepted an invitation to direct RDT’s Facilities Planning Committee, the project took on an added dimension. She began to educate the community and developed the necessary steps for us to realize our goals. In 1989, Alice formed a nonprofit organization, the Performing Arts Coalition (PAC), dedicated to developing a performing arts center. She invited the community arts groups to organize and cooperate. Her commitment and professional experience were invaluable. (Editor’s note: It is that same PAC that is currently celebrating its 5th Rose Exposed event, an evening that celebrates the facility where six celebrated performing arts groups, including RDT, all live and thrive as well as the connections we have as arts groups vital to Salt Lake. Rose Expoased is also a unique day in which we create work and fund raise for other important community partners. This year the annual outing will benefit exclusively Tracy Aviary.)

In 1990, local arts organizations met to share ideas. This group included Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Ballet West, Children’s Dance Theatre, Zivio Ethnic Arts Ensemble, Utah Opera, Utah Symphony, Nova Chamber Music, The Salt Lake Festival of the Arts (now the Utah Arts Festival), and the Utah Media Center.

The Performing Arts Coalition engaged Theatre Projects Consultants, Inc. to survey arts groups, to analyze potential sites and to complete a feasibility study. Eventually the survey determined that

[t]here are a great number of performing companies in the Salt Lake Metropolitan Area, and at the same time, practically no suitable performance spaces that are regularly available to them. … [T]he presence of a new facility would make the Salt Lake Metropolitan Area equal to cities such as Portland, Nashville, Tampa, Tulsa, Denver and Charlotte in its physical provision of publicly-owned buildings for the performing arts. 

The supporting evidence was clear, and we all became more determined. When Alice Steiner accepted a position as Executive Director of Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, Susan Boskoff became Executive Director of the PAC.

On The Move

In May of 1992, RDT vacated its barracks building home which was then demolished to clear the way for a new research facility. Salt Lake County was anxious to ensure RDT, as a tenant group, adequate space and helped the company relocate temporarily to the Salt Palace. A year later, RDT was notified that the Salt Palace would be demolished and that we would find ourselves homeless again.

The search for a facility took a toll on RDT. During a two-year period, the Company moved its office space five times. RDT began to have financial problems as staff time was spent packing, moving, unpacking, searching and planning. Of necessity, RDT had two agendas: one that would solve its singular space problems, and one that would lead to establishing a center to be used by many other groups. RDT gave up a number of opportunities for developing its own space in favor of waiting and helping to create a larger facility that could be shared by the community.

The PAC analyzed many potential building sites including Block 49, 57, and the Brooks Arcade, but feasibility studies determined that the funding for these large projects could not be realized. The dream project began to look unachievable. RDT decided that the Restaurant Equipment Supply Building would be the best solution to its immediate space problems. We decided to try and raise the funds to lease and renovate the RESCO building for RDT use until the PAC could secure a larger facility. However, the appeal of the warehouse location on West Broadway became more and more seductive. Recognizing the potential, RDT and PAC jointly approached the Salt Lake County. Commissioner Jim Bradley saw the value of adding a complementary venue to the Salt Lake County Fine Arts facilities. He endorsed the purchase of RESCO. A public/private partnership was formed and RDA granted seed money for renovation. The PAC accepted the responsibility for raising funds for the project.

But we would find out soon, very soon, that the RESCO building was not only RDT’s temporary home, but someone else’s.  And that someone else was a game-changer.

Join on Thursday for the final part: Home Sweet Home!

An earlier version of this text was first published as 2001: A Space Odyssey for RDT’s 35th anniversary in April 2001.

Linda C. Smith is the Executive/Artistic Director of RDT.  A founding member of the Company, she now divides her time between preparing budgets for grants and wrangling dancers in the studio.  She also likes to vacuum the RDT Offices.

Rose Exposed Flight

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