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Arts center caters to diverse campus needs

Tricia de Groot | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Though the $64 million structure towers visibly on the far south side of campus, size isn’t everything when it comes to the new Marie P. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. One of the largest controversies surrounding the building’s debut – the fact that the 350-seat capacity of the Patricia George Decio Mainstage theatre is actually smaller than the existing 571-seat Washington Hall – should be taken into context with the University’s priorities, said John Haynes, executive director of the Performing Arts Center.”A university is classically a place with a multitude of interests, and a singe, large state will draw a single, general, large audience,” said Haynes. “Universities come with highly specialized tastes from the faculty and students, and so having multiple venues makes a lot of sense to serve the needs of these individuals.”The University also had no desire to duplicate what the community already had, Haynes said. Knowing that the Morris Center in downtown South Bend could accommodate 2600 guests, officials decided that one large venue would not be the most appropriate decision for Notre Dame. “The measure of a great performance center is not how many seats it has, but how it serves its faculty, staff, students, and community,” Haynes said.To build a venue as large as the Morris or Notre Dame Stadium would also cost around $350 million, Haynes said, and would have to be a much taller building to keep in accordance with the collegiate gothic design of its neighbors.He added that a building of that magnitude would be a mediocre setting for all types of performing art because it would not be able to effectively meet all of the needs of a state of the art concert hall, performing stage and organ hall. Therefore, Haynes said, the University found it most appropriate to construct five separate venues – the Decio, the Judd and Mary Lou Leighton Concert Hall, the Chris and Anne Reyes Organ and Choral Recital Hall, the Michael Browning Family Cinema and the Regis Philbin Studio – that could simultaneously entertain five different performances in the most advanced venues.In addition to housing this spectrum, the Center also serves as an academic unit.”It is engineered for both teaching and performing, making it quite unique,” Haynes said.The University hopes to create a Center-specific endowment to compensate for the financial problems that could arise from the combination of booking big-name acts and allowing students to attend shows with reasonably priced tickets.”The earnings from the endowment will override the money lost from [student discounts],” said Haynes, adding that in its funding search, the Center will continue to look for donors with a passion for the performing arts.While the University began to address its need for additional performing arts space after receiving a grant from Edward DeBartolo in 1989, actual building progress was not made until 1996, when University President Father Edward Malloy and Provost Nathan Hatch appointed Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer and Associates as the architectural firm to oversee the project. In addition to hiring HHPA, the University also employed Theatre Project Consultants and McKay Conant & Brook to ensure state of the art performance venues with perfected acoustics.Over the next several years, the project team worked with University Architect Doug Marsh and with University faculty and staff to best assess the campus and community’s performance arts needs.