Culmination of a Dream

September 11, 1995

A rare partnership between a myriad public and private agencies has led to construction of a professional-quality arts center in downtown Columbia.

The 750-seat theater, to be named the Jim Rouse Center for the Performing Arts, after Columbia's founder, is rising on the grounds of the new Wilde Lake High School.

In addition to cooperation from the school system, the project has been awarded grants from county and state government, the Howard County Arts Council, the Columbia Association, the Rouse Co. and others.

But it was an initial $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that provided the leverage to attract the other backers. Howard County was the smallest community in the nation to receive such an award, with the NEA ranking its project ahead of other projects in larger, more traditional venues. It is a reminder that despite some sensational examples of questionable decision-making in the past, the NEA has tTC continued to serve a valuable purpose.

Credit also goes to the various groups and agencies that saw the value of this project and supported it with dollars. The school system, which is not a financial backer, has also supported the project with a rare display of flexibility that allowed one of its schools to serve as a site for what will essentially be a community theater. Not only will students from Wilde Lake have access to it, but students countywide, as well as professional music and dance troupes, are expected to perform there.

The theater, slated to open next year, is the realization of a dream outlined by the county's arts council several years ago. Based on a survey of 700 residents, the council concluded that space for the arts ranked high among county residents' wishes. Wilde Lake was chosen due to its central location and because construction of the new high school afforded an opportunity to build a quality facility from scratch.

In addition to comfortably upholstered seating, the facility is to have state-of-the-art acoustics and sound equipment as well as its own entrance that is separate from the school. Notably, New York-based Roger Morgan Studio, the company responsible for refurbishing the Kennedy Center theaters in Washington, is lending its architectural expertise to the Wilde Lake design. There are many positives about this project, but the one that looms largest is the door it opens for children to find expression through the performing arts.

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