• Opinion: South Boston Performing Arts Center by Robert Couture, Boston Musician’s Association VP

    by  • November 18, 2017 • News, Opinions

    MALC from time to time publishes opinion pieces from leaders of the artists community. We wish to ensure that the views of artists leaders are shared for discussion and reflection. The views are solely that of the author and all comments and/or questions should be directed to the author of the piece (their contact information is at end of this post). 

    South Boston Performing Arts Center

    The open comment period regarding the next stage of planning for the Seaport Square development has ended. Now the Boston Planning and Development Agency will make decisions about the size and scope of a performing arts center there. The original Seaport development plan included space for a significant building but WS, the current Seaport Square developer, after consulting a study by the City of Boston, as well as some members of the arts community, has responded with a proposal that includes two performing arts spaces within the Seaport Square development:

    • A Seaport Performing Arts Center that would house both a 500-seat and a 150-seat theatre
    • And an additional community black box theater that could seat 100

    Black box theaters are terrific, but they do not serve grand opera. Black box theaters never achieve the iconic status of a Boston Symphony Hall. Tourists will travel to visit the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Paris Opera House in France and even the Budapest State Opera House in Hungary, but they will not travel to Boston to see a black box theater.

    We need to serve all the needs of Boston’s arts organizations, large and small, but there is a gaping hole at the top where grand opera is concerned. Smaller theaters do not offer enough space to employ the forces that professional opera requires.

    Ironically, Boston tore down a great Opera House (on Huntington Avenue) in 1958. Over the past 50+ years Boston has become a world class city but is unable to support a full time opera company, partly because we do not have a real opera venue. In a time when the City talks about supporting jobs in the Arts, it should not look away from an opera company that could grow if it had meaningful civic investment. Boston Lyric Opera is a significant example of an employer which provides local jobs for local artists. For an opera company in Boston to grow, it needs the kind of focused support that we see from the State and City for companies in other business sectors. Professional musicians, choruses and dancers who work for the Boston Lyric Opera are local residents, unlike the talent commonly imported by some Boston presenter organizations in concert series and Broadway tours.

    The Seaport Square represents, perhaps, the last great opportunity to redefine Boston as a cultural leader in the 21st century. Boston does not have a performance center that meets today’s technological requirements. We have a few venues near downtown that are historical gems, but unfortunately, not viable options for grand opera. Perhaps a venue built with modular architecture could provide an answer: technology which enables the facility to be divided into three separate spaces or combined into a single large space.

    We should examine how other world class cities are moving forward with similar projects: the Perelman Center in NYC, a “one of a kind home offering the latest space and technological opportunities for creativity” or the Shed in Hudson Yards, a new center for “artistic invention.”

    We urge Boston to build an iconic Performance Center in the new South Boston Seaport District and give that part of the city some well needed architectural soul.

    -Robert Couture, Boston Musician’s Association VP, Principal Trombone at Boston Lyric Opera, and Boston resident

    Comments, questions and/or contact the author, Robert Couture rfcouture33@hotmail.com

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    The goal of the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) is to ensure that Massachusetts artists of all disciplines have a voice in public dialogs, decisions, and key public policy initiatives that impact the artists community and the creative economy. MALC works to ensure that artists have a permanent place at the policy making table.