Thursday, November 17, 2005

Interlochen Backs Out

Interlochen backs out


Photo: Record-Eagle/Tyler Sipe

Interlochen Center for the Arts no longer plans to run the State Theatre in downtown Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY - Interlochen Center for the Arts no longer plans to run the State Theatre as a performance place, and several groups are negotiating the future of the historic movie house.

The front-runner could be the Traverse City Film Festival. The State was the marquee venue last summer for the first film festival. It budgeted $1 million next year for the "purchase, operation or renovation" of the Front Street theater, according to festival co-founder Doug Stanton.

"That would be our hope, but negotiations are ongoing, and we just need to be positive," Stanton said.

The State currently is owned by the nonprofit State Theatre Group, which in 2003 announced a partnership with Interlochen. The plan was to raise $6.5 million in 12 months to upgrade the theater to allow for many types of entertainment and live performances.

The funding hasn't materialized and Interlochen backed away from its plan to run it once renovated.

"It appears to us the resources to create the multiple-use performing arts center and the momentum for that do not exist at this time," Interlochen spokesman Paul Heaton said.

Interlochen is still involved in planning for the theater's future and hopes to use it for some performances, Heaton said.

The State Theatre Group, Interlochen, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the film festival and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra are among those discussing what's next.

"We are all talking and trying to figure out what is going to work best," said Marsha Smith, Rotary's executive director.

The orchestra hoped to make the theater its new home if the full plan had been instituted.

The orchestra board hasn't ruled it out, but Interlochen's diminished involvement "has resulted in a reassessment that is ongoing," TSO spokesman Andy Buelow said.

State Theatre Group chairman Charles Judson said the owners are trying to "put together a plan" and won't actively fundraise until it does. The group is out of cash, Smith said.

"Everybody is being very cooperative," Judson said. "We definitely want there to be a future for it. We're trying to reach a shared vision."

Rotary gave $750,000 in grants to the State project to date, said Smith. It holds a $250,000 lien on the building.

City records placed a $670,000 value on the theater and the property in 1996. It has not been assessed since then because of its nonprofit status.

Film festival spokeswoman Tracy Kurtz said the festival invested more than $250,000 in donated materials and labor to spruce up the theater for the festival's inaugural run.

The festival envisions using the State to show movies, host concerts and provide a venue for other arts groups, Stanton said.

"The theater can be an incredibly attractive magnet for downtown and benefit the entire community," he said.

The festival's plans for the theater are "simple, small and local," he added.

"We are really excited about the opportunity to preserve this important downtown landmark," Stanton said.

I must be psychic!

Seriously, though, this is for the best. Interlochen doesn't have what it takes to make the State the sort of grassroots, hip, funky, more-with-less operation. The Arts Center folks may have some experience along the "more with less" lines, but their legacy is high art. Their programming selections have consistently run to very well established Arts Center fodder (with a few exceptions, what you see booked at Interlochen is the same "certified by the cultural elites" stuff you see booked at Arts Centers everywhere). Their image is, quite frankly, somewhat snobbish. Grassroots, hip and funky they are not.

The film festival on the other hand has some promise as a platform on which other community groups might put together a program (or programs) that will both bring the people in and give them something that goes beyond standard issue high culture.