Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2022,the Center for the Arts is the heart of the valley’s art scene.
// By Sue Muncaster
The last time I snuggled into a red-cushioned seat in the balcony of The Center Theatre with a glass of wine, flashbacks flooded my mind. My eyes filled with tears recalling the memorial service for a much-loved local who died skiing in the Tetons; a Lyle Lovett concert; Skinny Skis’ Avalanche Awareness Nights. Returning to the present, my shy 12-year-old sits next to me waiting for his hero, rock climber Alex Honnold, to recount his free solo of El Capitan.
It’s not just the wide variety of entertainment offered at The Center Theatre that holds a special place in my heart—it’s the hours spent experimenting in The Center’s ceramics studio, the night I got the nerve up to perform as an audience member with the Laff Staff Comedy Improv group and people actually laughed, the kid’s pasta-making cooking classes I taught for Slow Food in the Tetons, the Story Slam I performed at this past summer surrounded by friends. I am part of The Center, and it’s a part of me, and I’m so grateful for Center for the Arts, the 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization with 20 board members that oversees the 78,000 square-foot campus that makes up The Center.
I’m not the only one in the community who feels this way. “The Center is an amazing place that houses so many creative organizations,” says Bronwyn Minton, executive director of the Art Association of Jackson Hole, one of the 22 arts- or education-related organizations that call The Center home. “I feel very lucky to be a part of a community that values the arts in such a meaningful way. On any given day, it is possible to make art, listen to music, look at art, take a dance class, attend a performance, or take a music class, just to name a few.”
The Center is so important today it’s difficult to imagine the valley without it. But, celebrating its 15th birthday in 2022, The Center has existed for less time than it took to plan and build it.
During the pandemic, we were recipients of incredible generosity and astonishing support from our community.”—Marty Camino Center for the Arts executive director
In 1991, local arts organizations like the Art Association of Jackson Hole and Dancers’ Workshop, tired of increasing rents at inadequate facilities, spearheaded talks about a large space shared by multiple organizations. A $1,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole kickstarted several years of feasibility studies before the groups incorporated as an overarching effort in 1995 and embarked on the
design and fundraising processes.
The Center campus was built in two stages and was entirely funded by private donations totaling $35 million. The Arts and Education Wing was completed in 2005, and, in March of 2007, a newly acquired nine-foot Steinway grand piano was played for the first public performance in The Center Theatre to celebrate the completion of the Performing Arts Pavillion. (The pianist was Broadway star Franc D’Ambrosio.)
“From the very beginning, the core concept for building The Center was the spirit of collaboration,” says long-time Center for the Arts board member Karen Stewart, who, in 1991, was the executive director of the Art Association. “It was a challenge for so many different boards to buy into the long-term vision,” she says. According to Stewart, early executive directors Candra Day followed by Mark Barry and board president Bill Schwartz all deserve credit for relaying the collective vision that inspired the unprecedented generosity of individual donors.
In the spring of 2020, events were canceled and activity across the campus screeched to a halt. But The Center quickly pivoted, invested in a robust streaming system, and developed the technological expertise to produce virtual events and an online platform for local artists to present their works. In 2020, it conducted 40 virtual events.
As the pandemic unfolded, The Center and all the organizations within it came together to secure rent relief through the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole’s Emergency Response Fund. Further rent relief came when, as a collective, the organizations worked together with a common goal that not one fail. “During the pandemic, we were recipients of incredible generosity and astonishing support from our community,” says Center for the Arts executive director Marty Camino. Today, each organization that calls The Center home is stronger than ever, allowing the Center for the Arts itself to realize its stated mission: “To connect our creative community by providing a dedicated campus, supporting excellent programing, and nurturing a collaborative spirit.” Here are a few of The Center’s residents.
DID YOU KNOW…
- The design of the Performing Arts Pavilion was a collaboration between Jackson-based Carney Logan Burke Architects and Stephen Dynia Architects. GE Johnson Construction Company made the design a reality, even if the temperatures dipped down to 17 degrees during the last pour of concrete.
- The Center Theatre hosts drama, dance, music, movie screenings, and educational events. The theatre is intimate yet spacious: 525 seats. Long-time board members Karen Stewart and Agnes Bourne say past favorite performances include John Prine, the Diavlo Dance Company, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Off Square Theatre’s Peter Pan, when local kids “flew” through the air.
- The 100-seat Black Box Theatre is utilized for rehearsals, smaller productions like those by Riot Act, Inc., and Laff Staff comedy improv shows.
- Encircled by a bridge above and massive picture windows, the breezy Lobby has a bar area and hosts receptions, art and trade shows, and social events.
- The 1.2-acre Center Lawn is a community gathering space. When weather permits and/or Covid requires, the lawn hosts everything from Thin Air Shakespeare to the Grand Teton Music Festival, the People’s Market farmer’s market, Art Fairs, and Teton County Library Story Slams.
- Ever-changing public art is installed in The Courtyard, an outdoor space in the middle of the campus.
1. The youngest (founded in 2019) and fastest-growing of all of The Center’s nonprofit programs is the Teton Music School. Here, in practice rooms, ensemble spaces, and a recording studio, you can learn the cello, drums, guitar, flute, piano, saxophone, ukulele, viola, bass, and violin from professional musicians. It also has a vocal coach and a rock band coach. tetonmusicschool.org
2. Off Square Theatre Company is The Center’s resident performing arts company and produces staged productions, including an annual youth musical, a reading series, Thin Air Shakespeare on the Center Lawn, holiday plays, and summer camps. Throughout the year, Off Square conducts virtual and in-person educational programs for all ages, such as 2nd Act, which engages seniors in live theater through a partnership with the Senior Center of Jackson Hole; Off Script, a book club for plays; Play Writing Camp for Teens; and Who Dunnit? A Mystery Theatre Camp for grades 4–7. offsquare.org
3. Broadcast from within The Center, Jackson Hole Community Radio KHOL (89.1) is a noncommercial radio station with over 25 programs per week locally produced by volunteers. The eclectic mix ranges from Opera for Everyone to neo-psychedelia jam rock during Tune On, Tune In, Drop Out to the hottest country music hits mixed with musings of a local single gal called Yellowstone Rose. Jackson Unpacked is KHOL’s podcast showcasing local news, music, and culture. KHOL plans to expand Spanish-language broadcasting and is working to acquire a Public Radio Broadcasting affiliation. 891khol.org
4. Central Wyoming College is a community college that offers certificate programs, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, community enrichment classes, professional development, and career-readiness training. Nursing and administrative offices make up the bulk of its real estate, but the college is working toward a mobile kitchen on campus to support its popular Culinary Arts and Hospitality program, which boasts a 100 percent employment rate upon graduation. The new Wind River Farm Incubator helps beginning farmers develop financially and environmentally sustainable businesses. cwd.edu/jackson
5. The mission of Jackson Hole Public Art is to “forge partnerships for the integration of art into the environment to inspire lasting cultural, educational, and economic benefits.” The nonprofit oversees more than 20 projects and events throughout the valley from its offices in The Center. jhpublicart.org
6. The Art Association of Jackson Hole, a nonprofit formed over 50 years ago, occupies the most significant amount of real estate—over 10,000 square feet—in The Center. Top-notch studios packed with supplies and tools for teaching and public use include ceramics, photography, paint and printmaking, woodworking, jewelry, glass, a multipurpose studio, and a dedicated kids’ studio. The Art Association oversees art fairs, events, an art supply store, and a gallery. In 2020, despite the pandemic, the Art Association safely pulled off 41 youth classes, 26 summer camps, and 80 adult classes; four gallery exhibitions featured 150 regional artisans, and eight community events showcased 319 artists. artassociation.org
7. One of the oldest art nonprofit organizations in the valley, Dancers’ Workshop has offered creative movement and formal dance instruction ranging from ballet to Zumba since 1971. It has five dance studios where an average of 50 movement and wellness classes are held each week. The group also brings guest artists and groups like Tika Morgan and the New York City Ballet to do workshops and performances. Its most popular event is its annual winter production, which stars students 18 and younger and sells out the 525-seat Center Theatre for all three performances. dwjh.org JH