The countdown is over: The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, a dream several years in the making, opens in Beaverton today, March 1. The 43,000-square-foot, $55 million arts center will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. It’s the biggest cultural center to open in the greater metropolitan area since the 1980s, when the refurbished Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the new three-theater building on Southwest Broadway in downtown Portland joined Keller Auditorium to form what’s now called Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.
The Reser Center is named for Washington County philanthropist Patricia Reser, whose $13 million gift gave the project its legs. It becomes an immediate architectural and cultural focus near The Round, between Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard and Southwest Hall Boulevard, and continues the city’s drive to make the area a kind of de facto downtown: City Hall, a key MAX light-rail station, mixed-use retail/residential development, and a hotel site are among the new center’s neighbors. The Reser includes an adaptable 550-seat performance hall, an art gallery, meeting and lobby spaces, rehearsal and workshop spaces, an outdoor plaza, and a new adjacent parking garage. It sits above the city’s namesake Beaverton Creek, with views over the water.
First attraction to open at the new center will be the gallery show Celilo – Never Silenced, an exhibit that considers the impact of the loss of Celilo Falls after construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957. The dam’s backed-up waters wiped out traditional tribal fishing and gathering grounds, fundamentally altering a way of life that had developed over thousands of years. The exhibit will be open for viewing on Tuesday, have an official artists’ reception on Friday, March 4, and continue on view through June 5. The list of prominent artists includes Don Bailey, Rick Bartow, Joe Cantrell, Jonnel Covault, Ed Edmo, Joe Feddersen, Analee Fuentes, Sean Gallagher, Lillian Pitt, Pah-tu Pitt, Richard Rowland, Sara Siestreem, Gail Tremblay, and Richard York.
Performances won’t begin until next week: On March 8, Nobuntu, a women’s a cappella singing quintet from Zimbabwe, becomes the first attraction in the new theater. The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra will blow into town a few days later, on the 12th, with an evening of traditional jazz. And beginning at 10 a.m. on March 13 the center will host Shine the Light: A Community Celebration, a free family-day gathering that’ll include tours of the new facility, art activities, and performances by several local groups. That evening the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra will become the first local group to present a ticketed performance. You can see the center’s full schedule of events here.
The opening of the Reser comes at a time when suburban areas and smaller cities are beginning to reassert their own identities rather than look mostly toward city centers for their business and cultural cues. Cultural centers are part of that general shift. In Corvallis, Oregon State University is building a similar cultural complex that will sit on the edge of the university, serving both town and gown. In the Columbia Gorge, Hood River is raising money for its own such center. In Newberg, the Chehalem Cultural Center is making plans to add a performing arts wing to its already impressive gallery and other spaces.
Last fall architecture and cultural writer Brian Libby wrote a pair of in-depth stories for ArtsWatch about the center’s planning, building, and aspirations. As the Reser finally opens, they’re well worth taking a deep dive. Rising in Beaverton: West Gate takes a long look at the center’s history, planning, and architecture. Chris Ayzoukian, director of Beaverton’s new Reser arts center, is an in-depth Q&A interview with the man who’s running the shows.
One thing to watch for as the new center gains its legs is how it will be programmed. Will it become a home space for artists and arts groups in Washington County, perhaps spurring the growth of new locally focused organizations? Will it be essentially a road house, presenting groups and entertainers on tour? Or something else?
Like other similar centers, it’s likely to present a mix of attractions. Early programming indicates it’ll book a fair amount of touring acts. It also looks to be an attractive new space for several established Portland area companies: Chamber Music Northwest and BodyVox Dance, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, the Indian performance presenter Kalakendra, White Bird Dance, singer Colin Meloy, the Oregon Symphony, Portland Columbia Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic and others already have scheduled events in the center.
The Resers’ role in nurturing Washington County artists and groups is less certain. The center “wasn’t really purpose-built for one resident arts organization. It came up from the community to be a hub, for more equitable access to the arts on the west side,” Ayzoukian told Libby last September. He added: “In the first few years, you need time to understand what audiences want and what will differentiate us. So we’ll present a variety of things, and what I call the best of the region. And we’ll have a series that brings in artists from all over the world, for music, dance, spoken word, theater. It will be a professional presenting organization as well as a home for local and regional arts organizations.”
Tuesday morning’s invitation-only ribbon-cutting will feature namesake Reser, center director Ayzoukian, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, and Beaverton city councilors. “I couldn’t be more excited about the opening of this community treasure,” Mayor Beaty said in a prepared statement. “Our community’s vision for a space to celebrate and engage the arts has finally come to life. Everyone is welcome here, and I hope it becomes a place to gather and be inspired.”