A band playing oldies tunes and a food truck doling out tasty treats livened up a desolate Midtown lot along Main Street Wednesday afternoon amid high spirits it will soon be transformed into a thriving center for smaller arts groups and cement Houston's reputation as a city that welcomes the creative class.
"I always knew this day would come, but I can't believe it is finally here," an ebullient Midtown Arts and Theatre Center Houston board president Emily Todd proclaimed as arts leaders gathered to officially break ground for the new complex, known by the snappy acronym MATCH.
"We've put a lot of energy over the last few years in making Houston a city where one wants to live; not just one where one comes to make a living," Parker said.
For a decade, Todd and others have been working to build a new multi-venue arts facility with theaters, flexible performing spaces and art galleries for smaller arts groups that don't have the resources to rent space at larger venues like the Wortham Theater Center or the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Before a crowd of 300 arts leaders, Todd joined Mayor Annise Parker, State Rep. Garnett Coleman, Houston Endowment president Ann Stern and MATCH board member George Levan for a symbolic groundbreaking for the $25 million complex, designed by Lake/Flato and Studio RED architects.
"I've done a lot of these things, so don't pick up much dirt," Parker instructed the others as they each dug a shovel and into a mound on the parking lot and raised it for the cameras.
More than $20 million has been raised for the complex, in a unique mix of public and private funds. Contributions have included a $6 million grant from Houston Endowment. "We think it is a fantastic investment for the arts community, for this vibrant neighborhood and for the future of Houston," said Stern. "And like you, we can't wait to see it come to life."
Parker noted that it was fitting that the groundbreaking was taking place the week that the Offshore Technology Conference was bringing in thousands of visitors because it shows "there's a lot more to Houston than being a town that's just about business."
"We've put a lot of energy over the last few years in making Houston a city where one wants to live; not just one where one comes to make a living," Parker added.
Parker cited a recent survey by the Center for Houston's Future on the impact of the arts. "One of the things the study showed was while we have a strong and very dynamic arts community, there really hasn't been a path for small organizations to grow. MATCH isn't the only answer to that, bit it's one answer," she said.
Parker also noted the project, located on a light rail stop in booming Midtown, will serve as a catalyst for development. "Midtown is exploding with the young professionals who are changing the face of Houston," she said. "We have an opportunity for this new facility to become not just a catalyst for development in the immediate vicinity, but to allow us another huge step forward in recreating Houston as a city in which one wants to live, where we are in competition for the creative class here in America and around the world."
The groundbreaking included a fanfare written specifically for this occasion by Musiqa composer Marcus Maroney and performed by River Oaks Chamber Orchestra Brass Trio. The orchestra will be among the small arts groups to utilize the center when it opens next year.