Vista Arts Center: group envisions dedicated place for arts

A 23-year-old group has stepped into the spotlight to raise money to open the Tri-Cities’ first performing arts center at Vista Field.

The group has long said that the Tri-Cities doesn’t have a suitable, designated performance space to hold symphonies, Broadway shows, plays and ballets.

“The idea is that Vista Field will become an arts and entertainment district,” said Steve Wiley, board chairman for the task force. “We’re trying to create (a) vibrant hub of community activity. Another reason we’re passionate about the performing arts is that the performing arts connect people … we need more connection.”

The Port of Kennewick and the Arts Center Task Force signed a letter of intent in 2017 so the arts nonprofit can buy 2.2 acres at the center of Vista Field for $10,000. The task force has two years to raise the money.

“We have a letter of support from 22 performing arts groups and four partner arts groups (and) letters of support from TRIDEC (Tri-City Development Council), Visit Tri-Cities, the chamber of commerce, and then the Port of Kennewick,” Wiley said.

So far, the group has raised enough through community fundraising to pay for the conceptual design from Seattle-based LMN Architects, hire an executive director, conduct pre-capital campaign planning and maintain operations, said Renée Adams, the task force’s executive director.

Renée Adams, the Arts Center Task Force’s executive director

Renée Adams, the Arts Center Task Force’s executive director

“Our next goal is to not only fund the final design itself, so that we have an accurate picture of what the final facility will contain and cost, but to begin the capital campaign itself,” said Adams, who estimates the cost of the center to be about $35 million.

The building will feature a lobby, art gallery, community space and kitchen, in addition to an auditorium and backstage facilities.

The 800-seat Vista Arts Center will serve local, regional and smaller touring companies. Its footprint would be 30,000 square feet or bigger and include 200 or more parking spaces, according to the letter of intent.

Wiley said the performing arts center won’t just be a center for art, but “for cultural enrichment, where one can see, for example, different ethnic groups. A place where all of that — indigenous art, community art, outside art — can all be seen and appreciated.”

“The arts are a gathering place for families and for people in their smaller communities,” Adams said. “We have almost 50 different groups across the spectrum of arts stakeholders.”

Wiley said there’s work to do to get the rest of the community on board by “communicating the value of the performing arts … (so that) when we finally open the performing arts center, we’ll have an audience that will come in and support it, which is important for the long-term viability of the facility.”

Adams said participation in the arts fosters universal skills such as collaboration and creativity, which she said translates to “building up our youth and the skills in our community for innovation and business and ideas for the future.”

Wiley said that Vista Field’s redevelopment hopefully will help attract young people to the area and anchors them here.

Established in 1995, the task force began as an advocacy group supporting the establishment of a performing arts center in the Tri-Cities, but when local entities failed to act, the group decided to commit to making its dream a reality and pay for it themselves.

“We have an open door and are happy to talk, to meet, to hear people’s ideas and opinions,” Adams said. “We’re also looking for advocates in the community.”

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