Five years ago, the Austin arts landscape changed — and evolved — with the opening of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. What is now considered Austin's Creative Home plays host to a variety of arts performances each season, from high arts like Ballet Austin, to community-minded organizations like the Pollyanna Theatre Company.
On Saturday night, the Long Center will celebrate its five years as part of the Austin creative scene with Purple Party 5, featuring an intimate performance from Broadway (and screen) star Kristin Chenoweth. The performance will conclude with an after party on the City Terrace.
Ahead of Purple Party, CultureMap caught up with Long Center Executive Director and CEO Jamie Grant, who shared enthusiastic insight on where the Long Center has been, its most memorable moments, and what party-goers can expect at Saturday's celebration.
CultureMap: Congrats on the fifth anniversary! How do you feel the Long Center has changed, or benefited, the greater Austin arts community in its five-year history?
Jamie Grant: Thank you very much. We are so excited about our fifth anniversary and are really looking forward to a spectacular Purple Party 5 celebration. Kristin Chenoweth is the perfect star to headline the night.
To answer your question, you know, at the Long Center we aspire to showcase the homegrown in everything we do. This is a world-class performance venue on the shores of Lady Bird Lake that provides the home for the city’s ballet, symphony and opera; serves as a venue for SXSW film, interactive and music; engages in outreach in schools and underserved communities; fosters creative development for emerging companies and artists; and features regular performances by our new resident companies Austin Shakespeare, Pollyanna Theatre Company and Tapestry Dance Company.
These factors combine to really contribute to this city’s momentum on the national and international arts scenes. The Long Center, as "Austin’s Creative Home," has provided the piece that had been missing for many years in the arts community of Austin, because for so long we didn’t have any of those things in this city.
I should also take this opportunity to let you know we will be making a big announcement Saturday night at the Purple Party. A new resident company will be calling the Long Center home. It’s a beloved and internationally recognized award-winning Austin arts group that everyone knows, and we are so proud to be working with them. You’ll just have to wait and see who it is!
CM: What are your favorite memories of the Long Center's first five years?
I have to say though, that last summer, when we had 3,000 families on the Long Center City Terrace for Bubblepalooza on an August morning… that was special.
JG: If these walls could talk! The thing that strikes me most about the Long Center is the broad spectrum of events, shows and other activities you see here. Liza Minnelli or Harry Connick Jr. can be playing in Dell Hall, while at the same moment Pollyanna Theatre Company is premiering an original play downstairs in the Rollins Studio Theatre! These are the memories that resonate the most with me, when the Long Center is fulfilling its role as iconic cultural hub.
I have to say though, that last summer, when we had 3,000 families on the Long Center City Terrace for Bubblepalooza on an August morning… that was special. To me, that’s what the Long Center is truly about: It was a free event, open to the entire community, and families were making memories in our front yard. I will never forget when we had every person out there turn around and wave to one of our staff members who was standing up on the ring beam with a camera. It was an amazing moment.
CM: Where do you see the Long Center growing, and how do you see it changing, in the next five years?
JG: It’s really quite simple: The Long Center experience is for everyone, and I want everyone to have it. Whether you are on the City Terrace petting a dinosaur, blowing bubbles, eating trailer food or simply spending a spring day with your family… whether you’re watching a ballet recital (or Ballet Folklorico for that matter) in Dell Hall or an improv comedy troupe in the Rollins Theatre… whether you’re coming through our doors for the first time or arriving in the Kodosky Lounge for a major donor reception, I envision Austin’s Creative Home as a home for everyone, and everything I do in my role is designed to bring life to that vision.
CM: You're celebrating with an evening featuring Kristin Chenoweth. What does Chenoweth's night at the Long Center mean to your organization, and the arts community as a whole?
JG: Look, this place was built to host world class entertainers. Every advantage of modern, high tech engineering has been brought to bear in this design. You get flawless acoustics and unmatched site lines, but it all comes together in a relaxed and friendly environment that people in this community have come to expect and demand.
Kristin’s performance means that we celebrate our birthday with 2400 of our closest friends and a superstar onstage… but it feels like an intimate gathering. When talent like Kristin Chenoweth, Bon Iver or Kelly Clarkson play Dell Hall, they want to come back to Austin, and that’s powerful stuff.
CM: What should guests look forward to at Purple Party?
JG: You know the Long Center is really quite a magnificent place. The extraordinary architecture of this building set against the backdrop of Lady Bird Lake and downtown Austin… it all comes together to create a spectacular presence, and Purple Party is really our chance to show it all off. We’ll have the porch light on Saturday night, so to speak.
We will be welcoming Austin into our home, and we’re very aware that for many people it will be their first time at the Long Center. You’ll see world class entertainment from one of the greatest stars of our time, followed by a free after party on our wonderful City Terrace. We want everyone to really see what we can do, so we’ll be pulling out all the stops!
The Long Center's Purple Party takes place Saturday, April 6. Tickets are available from $49.