The Old Town Center for the Arts begins its 10th season on Friday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m., with the 4th annual Celebrate the River Concert.
“Looking back we’ve experienced and collected some wonderful memories,” co-director William Eaton mentioned. “When we first started we would never have imagined presenting luminaries and musical legends like David Bromberg, Susy Bogguss, John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Melanie, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Maria Muldaur, Laurence Juber of Wings, Marshall Trimble, The Grascals, Rosie Flores, Jimmy Fortune (Statler Brothers), and so many more.”
“OTCA’s concert lineup this year just might be the best yet,” co-director William Eaton remarked. “Already booked so far are some of the finest performers touring today, including: Kaki King, The Steel Wheels, The California Guitar Trio, Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds, Muriel Anderson, and the Hillbenders presenting the Who’s ‘Tommy a Bluegrass Opry.”
Over 50,000 attendees have come to OTCA to be entertained or educated or inspired or for a thousand other reasons. The 500+ events presented thus far have included international performing artists from every continent except Antarctica, along with national, regional and local performers. Community events, festivals, expos, sustainable group meetings, workshops and many other meetings have rounded out the offerings at Old Town Center for the Arts. Concurrently, Studio B located adjacent to the theater building has seen another 80,000 people showing up to attend classes in yoga, dance and movement arts, visual arts, meditation, and many other disciplines.
But the statistics don’t tell the real story of Old Town Center for the Arts. Gatherings at 5th Street and Main began way back in the 1930’s when the building was constructed to become the first Church of Latter Day Saints in Old Town Cottonwood. Home to at least five other churches since that time this venerable old stone building has also been a place of business for a music store, bike shop, office for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and an antique store, among other uses.
“It’s fascinating to hear stories from elder residents who remember going to Sunday school in the basement, or someone who bought a guitar here, or someone who stopped in to get their first car registered,” co-director of OTCA William Eaton remarked. “This building is part of Cottonwood’s history, and there’s some magic here. A patron at a recent event said he thought it had to do with the ‘masons’ who put this building together using ‘golden mean’ proportions and orienting the building to the sun’s seasonal arc for best natural cooling and heating. I often think and reflect on all the people who have come thru these doors to worship, pray, contemplate, celebrate a wedding or a life. And the past nine years I’ve witnessed the transformation people go through when they attend a ‘performing arts’ event, whether its music, theater, comedy or any other event.”
Elena Bullard, OTCA’s manager and marketing director concurred, “A thread of continuity for the building, is its spiritual roots. The whole corner seems to have a white light shining on it, maybe emanating within it. You can almost see patrons take on this lovely glow when they come to OTCA, and when they leave it seems intensified. I should know, I see them come in and I see them leave.”
The past 10 years have seen many theaters and performing arts centers close, both locally and nationally, including the New York City Opera, which had operated for over 70 years. What place does an arts center have for a community? Why is it important to support the arts and an arts center? These questions are often raised when centers look to patrons and cities or universities for financial support.
Elena Bullard commented that, “When we started our first OTCA season, the nation was in the grips of a recession/depression, and individuals were reeling from the economic collapse. Nevertheless, I always felt confident that OTCA would do fine. I tried to think of why. Maybe it was for me, growing up in NYC, and spending my formative years going to concerts, museums and taking advantage of the cultural aspects. Escaping to Greenwich Village to take in the music scene of the late 1960’s all seemed the norm, almost a requisite, so OTCA concerts, for me seemed like a logical addition to Cottonwood.”
William Eaton recapitulated, “Old Town Center for the Arts was created from my wife Christy’s vision, who saw a ‘for sale’ on the property back in 2005. As a modern dancer she travelled the world with the Nikolais Dance Theater performing in some of the great halls across the continents, and some eclectic venues as well, like a bull ring in Spain and an ancient limestone amphitheater in Greece. With her artistic passion and intuition she could see how this old ‘church’ building could be made into a wonderful ‘vintage’ theater. It really has been a journey and an adventure.”
“The Old Town Center for the Arts ‘project’ would never have happened without Christy’s dream and Elena’s administrative skills. I joined into this vision, understanding that if we were going to take on a philanthropic project, this was the one for us. When we first started I thought we might break even. And now, looking back, though we’ve lost money each year, we’ve gained so much more in personal satisfaction and enrichment.”
William recounted the early years. “The first five years was educational. As I began doing research on how arts centers operate, I learned that ticket sales represent, on average, only 35% of an arts center’s operating budget; the rest comes from outside funding. Centers for the most part exist with community support, through grants, donations, and in many cities through an add-on sales tax designation. What I also learned is that beyond the art, entertainment and culture an arts center can bring to a community it can also make a significant economic contribution through extra dollars spent in the community. When I first presented this information to Mayor Diane Joens and the City Council in 2013 they immediately got it, and for the past three years the City has provided financial support to OTCA, which has helped us to continue our work as a community arts center. In the first and subsequent City Council budget meetings, I reported that a detailed study conducted by the Americans for the Arts in 33 states, 90 Cities and 3000 organizations revealed that local patrons who attend a performing arts event spend an additional $31 above the price of a concert ticket (on average) at local restaurants, retailers, galleries, wine tasting establishments, travel and hotels. Out of town visitors spend even more, on average $55. Those expenditures add up, and translate into extra sales tax revenue. We estimate that our 50,000 plus attendees, during the past nine years have spent in excess of $3.5 million in the Cottonwood/Verde Valley area, which has resulted in direct sales tax revenue to the City of Cottonwood at around $167,000. In the big scheme of things that’s not much, but for a little venue like OTCA we feel that we are at least doing our part. The press releases and promotional information about the concerts and events at OTCA, distributed to a state-wide media list and beyond, including social media posting, also helps to promote OTCA, Old Town and it’s attractions, and adds to the economic impact.”
Art is the language of the Spirit
Why is art important for a community? Some staunch arts advocates would argue that art is a necessity, as important as life and breath. Well that might be a stretch. Though, historically, when we get the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter covered, the next thing we do is search for meaning, begin creating stuff and we get together. The need for gathering and socializing is at the core of our earliest memory. Old Town Center for the Arts, and any performing arts venue, is a direct descendent of our earliest indigenous ancestors capacity to gather, to create, sing, chant, make music, dance and socialize. In my own experience, even though I’ve been a musician for many years, I didn’t really get this until I got involved with OTCA – helping to organize and present events. “
Celebrate the River
Our first event of the season is a perfect combination of community, music, spirit and education – our 4th Annual Celebrate the River Concert, on Friday, September 29th begins with a ‘river inspired’ art exhibit at 6 pm followed by the concert beginning at 7:00 PM. If you’ve taken the time to read this article, you’re the kind of person who would enjoy this event. We’ll honor, through art, song, poetry and speech, the most important elements to our existence here, the Verde River and Oak Creek water basins.
Mayors Tim Elinski (Cottonwood), Sandy Moriarty (Sedona) and Doug Von Gausig (Clarkdale) will give brief overviews to the work each city is doing to manage and preserve our areas precious water resources. Musicians Robin Miller, Patrick Ki, Susannah Martin, Claudia Tulip, William Eaton, Rachel Mari Kimber, Dave Rentz, William Schaub, and Wendy Harford will present original songs and popular covers devoted to the beauty, necessity, and mystery of rivers and water. River groups will be on hand to provide education and opportunity for those wishing to get involved with river volunteerism and management.
Tickets are available online at www.showtix4u.com. Tickets are also available in Cottonwood at Desert Dancer and Mount Hope Natural Foods; and in Sedona at Local Juicery. Old Town Center for the Arts is located at 633 N. Main Street (5th Street & Main St.) in Old Town Cottonwood. For more information please visit oldtowncenter.org; 928-634-0940.