Professional concert presenters tend to take a long view. They work a year or two, sometimes three or four, in advance in order to ensure that their performance halls are booked.
Spoleto Festival USA is already putting the pieces in place for its 2016 arts extravaganza, even as it finalizes the details of next year’s 17-day event.
The Charleston Symphony, too, is charting its programs and other offerings for the 2015-16 season, the first to include newly named music director, Ken Lam.
The recently formed Gaillard Management Corporation, responsible for booking the concert and exhibition halls, is faced with a unique challenge: It must ensure that construction is completed by spring and the facility’s crew is ready for action in time for the April 2015 gala. It’s got little time.
The first full season begins next August. Going forward, GMC will strive to present 10-15 concert programs and other events each season, relying on local arts groups to fill out the rest of the schedule, according to Tom Tomlinson, who was named the organization’s first executive director in March.
Two weeks ago, GMC hired its new education director, Rick Jerue, former head of the Art Institute of Charleston.
‘Maturing of the arts’
GMC board member Luther Cochrane said the opening gala will be a 10-day affair that begins April 17 and concludes two Sundays later. It will include “someone or a combination of people who will be nationally and internationally significant,” he said. The concerts all will be acoustic.
“The whole point is to showcase the hall,” Tomlinson said, adding that negotiations with performers are still underway so details can’t be publicized yet.
Cochrane said the programming will likely include concerts for children, gospel music and presentations by local artists and ensembles, including the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. The concert and exhibition hall both will be used.
“We will try to make it as diverse as we can,” he said.
The show featuring “internationally significant” artists will be an opening night fundraiser.
“As programming for the building is done, it will be done in such a sensitive way as there will be something for everybody,” GMC board member Renee Anderson said.
Looking further ahead, the Gaillard could host holiday concerts, New Year’s Eve galas, opera productions, touring orchestras, popular entertainers and more – in addition to performances by local groups, of course.
Jason Nichols, director of the Charleston Concert Association said he was once concerned about whether and how his presenting organization and GMC would work together, but after a series of “very positive discussions,” he is happy and optimistic.
“I think things are going to work out beautifully for the two organizations,” Nichols said. “I think what we’ll see with the development of the new Gaillard under (Tomlinson’s) leadership is a maturing of the arts community in a very positive way.”
Work on the building, a $142 million project, continues, now at a frenetic pace. Cochrane said the facility will be ready for public use in April, even if a few punch list items remain unfinished.
In May, Spoleto Festival USA takes control of the Gaillard and is planning its own opening festivities, according to General Director Nigel Redden.
“We will do our own celebration when we open the festival, trying to show it off in a variety of ways,” Redden said. “We are planning a festival that will take full advantage of the Gaillard. We want to test its possibilities.”
That means a big opera production, dance, classical music concerts and amplified popular music shows.
“And we’ve very excited about it,” Redden added. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful theater.”
‘A true civic center’
Jerue, like his GMC colleagues, hit the ground running. He is meeting with leaders in Charleston’s arts community, gathering information about education programming here and elsewhere and thinking about ways in which the Gaillard can facilitate stronger outreach.
“We don’t want to duplicate what others are doing,” he said. “We should find out the areas that aren’t being served, (where) we might have the unique ability to move in and serve those areas.”
Eventually he will devise a plan of action.
“My philosophy is that the Gaillard needs to be a true civic center that’s embraced by the community at large, so I’m going to find ways to try to make that happen,” he said, emphasizing the need to be inclusive so that all arts organizations, large and small, have a chance to collaborate with the Gaillard and, potentially, one another. “If it’s done right, it’s going to provide long-standing direction for the Gaillard.”
Meanwhile, Tomlinson is (among other things) working to schedule events. Already, 268 “use days” have been booked for the Gaillard Center’s first 12 months of operation. Of those days when either the concert hall or exhibition hall is in use, about 170 are “public days” when the Gaillard hosts a performance or event, he said. (The rest are days when rehearsals, set-up and other activities are underway.)
He’s in discussions with a group in the Southeast that might hold its 2017 convention in the Holy City, and he’s actively negotiating with local organizations, including the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Concert Association and Jazz Artists of Charleston.
Leah Suarez, executive director of Jazz Artists of Charleston, said she is “happy to be at the table” discussing opening festivities and other opportunities.
“It says not only that the Gaillard is important but the whole musical landscape,” she said.
From her organization’s perspective, the Gaillard presents some intriguing possibilities.
“There are lots of opportunities to utilize the performance hall, as well as the exhibition hall and the outdoor spaces – pretty much the entire building,” she said.
Jazz Artists of Charleston produces the big band series featuring the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, among other initiatives. The CJO has made its home at the Charleston Music Hall on John Street since its inception more than six years ago, and that’s not going to change, Suarez said. But that doesn’t mean the CJO and other groups associated with Jazz Artists of Charleston can’t present a variety of concerts, education programming and community outreach events in collaboration with the Gaillard, she said.
The potential opportunities for engaging young people and drawing them to a major, centralized performance space, are particularly attractive, Suarez added. And the interest the GMC has shown in working with a variety of arts organization is encouraging.
“We have a responsibility to make sure Charleston’s imprint is diverse and inclusive, and that artists’ integrity is intact,” Suarez said.
“There’s plenty of room for everything. That’s the feeling I’m getting. It challenges us to be creative as a community, and inclusive, and to collaborate.”