Behind the Curtain
4:00 am
Thu September 12, 2013

New Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech

Credit Virginia Tech

The curtain rises next month in Blacksburg on a new ‘state of the art,’ Center For the Arts at Virginia Tech.  They’re busy putting on the finishing touches and getting ready for opening night. 

Robbie Harris got a peak behind the curtain and prepared this report.

All that’s left is the finish work at the new Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.  And like an ensemble, which must function as one, this multifaceted building is the sum of its parts. Each aspect precisely specked out by its designers.

In many ways, the entire building is a kind of theater, designed not only for viewing polished performances, but also for a look at the process it takes to put on a show. Executive Director Ruth Waalkes has spent the 4 years since she was brought here to create this center, working toward this moment, and soon the curtain will rise

“It is a big vision for the university as well it’s not just a facility.  We’re developing a research institute around these ideas, we’re developing a presenting program and really embedding the arts more in our institution," said Waalkes.

After a tour of the grand entry hall and gallery spaces we walk past what will be the theater box office. Nearly but not quite finished, it looks like a prop for a stage set itself In fact the whole building has the feeling of a small city preparing itself for street theater.

 On this late August visit, the place is beehive of activity, parts of movable walls and wings everywhere.  But with the vision of a director, Waalkes sees it as it will look on opening night when a composer, Philip Glass kicks off the inaugural season November 1st.  

“To have something like this, this size, the sort of full capabilities to present any kind of performance we want to and we can imagine in there and to have it located in this facility with all these other spaces, adjacent to galleries, adjacent to the research space and the studios, makes it just an incredible asset we hope to the whole region and to the university,"said Walkes.

The performance aspects of this new arts center blend with its technical side much like the relationship between Waalks and her collaborator on the project, Benjamin Knapp Director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology, known as ICAT.  

He is the force behind what they call the CUBE.  A 4 story magical black room tricked out with the latest in audio and video technology, which will open this arts center to the world. Knapp says the goals virtually break down the walls between art and science, two fields, which may share a similar mission, but often approach it from very different directions.

“It’s an interesting challenge between Ruth and I in how all of this works together.  A research institute is used to hey, this is what we do and here’s what we’re going to do.   A performance and community interaction facility does this and – connecting those two worlds, because research is sloppy. There’s always going to be challenges and this cube represents that," said Knapp.

Students and professors are already lining up to book time in the Cube, but their work will not be hidden in some ivory tower.  The center won a federal grant to create something called a ‘mirror world.’  Its purpose is to virtually open the walls of this building, making all that goes on inside, accessible to anyone, anywhere, online.  And while there are cubes like this, which focus on science and some, which portray arts, there may be no other place in the world like this, which does both.