Fall 2004 marks the dramatic beginning of a new era in the cultural life of Madison and surrounding communities.
With the September 18 opening of phase one of the Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison, the visual and performing arts have become the focus of local attention like never before. The facility itself, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, came about through a $205 million gift from local businessman W. Jerome Frautschi. This astonishing gift is widely considered to be the largest single donation to an arts center in the United States.
The Overture Center is opening in two phases, with phase two slated to open in 2006. Presently, groups occupying phase one include the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Madison Ballet and the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.
The showpiece of phase one is Overture Hall, seating over 2,200. [Take a virtual tour.] The hall includes a stunning concert organ designed and built by a German family firm that has installed concert organs in halls around the world, Orgelbau Klais of Bonn. A work of art in and of itself, the organ is made up of more than 4,000 pipesthe largest of which is over 32 feet tall, and the smallest of which is about the size of a pencil.
Overture Hall, like the rest of the Overture Center facility, has been designed with aesthetics, comfort and handicap accessibility in mind. A Chicago-based acoustics firm, Kirkegaard Associates, worked to insure that the aural experience inside Overture Hall would be second to none, whether one is listening to a full symphony orchestra or a single human voice.
Visually, despite the arts complex's massive size, it has a feeling of lightness and openness, brought about through the use of enormous plate glass windows, light-colored wood such as English sycamore and buff marble. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel architecture critic Whitney Gould has written, "From its creamy limestone skin to its quietly elegant concert hall and radiant public spaces, almost everything about the new Overture Center for the Arts is a winner."
While the Overture Center is being widely touted as a venue for the performing arts, the visual arts are not receiving short shrift. The James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy will focus on state contemporary artists, as the Academy has done for decades in its earlier space on Madison's west side. Other gallery spaces throughout the facility will showcase local and regional artists.
Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) are helping to celebrate this landmark new facility. On Sunday, Sept. 26, WPR's Lori Skelton will host an afternoon of chamber music from noon to 4 p.m. WPR will also record the Madison Symphony Orchestra's 2004-05 season of concerts in Overture Hall. For more information, visit WPR's Web site.
Sept. 23 on WPT, the program "In Wisconsin" will take a special look at Overture and other recently built or renovated arts centers throughout the state, such as Wausau's ArtsBlock, the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls and the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay.
Looking ahead to 2006, when phase two opens, arts audiences will have a chance to experience the new home of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly called the Madison Art Center). The museum's space will increase dramatically compared to its previous incarnation in the Madison Civic Center, and it will also be its first home that has been specifically designed to function as an art museum. Another highlight of phase two will be the restored Capitol Theater.
When fully complete, the Overture Center for the Arts will encompass more than 400,000 square feet of interior space along State Street, Madison's pedestrian corridor linking the Capitol and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. It will occupy a full city block, land previously occupied by the Madison Civic Center and retail space.
As with other new arts facilities in Wisconsin communities, the Overture Center promises to be a powerful driver not only of local cultural life but also of economic development and community identity.
For more information about the Overture Center for the Arts, including a calendar of events, visit the Overture Web site.