FHPS Fine Arts Center Thriving

GRAND RAPIDS — Patronage of the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center has exceeded expectations in the 18 months since the center opened.

The center generated more than $400,000 in revenue its first year of operation, well beyond projected estimates. Tickets sales accounted for 44 percent of overall revenue and space rentals 38 percent, said Karen Lott, Forest Hills Public School (FHPS) executive director of community services.

“The consultants we worked with initially had projected about $250,000 in revenue would be a reasonable figure, because 50 to 60 percent of our time here is devoted to student activities and events, which limits our rental potential,” Lott explained. “Student activities come first.”

The 62,000-square-foot center serves the entire district, hosting performances by schools within the district, as well as traveling production companies. It serves as a venue for concerts, lectures and speaking engagements and provides art exhibit space for student, local, regional and national artists, too. The center operates with a staff of four and more than 250 trained volunteers.

The fine arts center has a 1,200-seat auditorium, six classrooms for community art enrichment classes, a multipurpose room, dance studio, an artist-in-residence studio, a café, a catering prep area and an outdoor dining patio. Its multi-use lobby can accommodate art shows and trade shows, as well as up to 280 guests for dinner.

“We have a fabulous artist-in-residence program here,” Lott said. “We feature six to eight artists in residence a year. They are some of the best-known artists in the area and we display their work for a month. As part of the artist-in-residence program, the artists provide free workshops for the community and for our students.”

Artist Stephen Duren is being featured now through Oct. 3. A reception will be held in his honor tomorrow evening.

“He’s offering a workshop and tour of his studio and home,” Lott noted. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity for people.”

Individuals and groups can rent space for community and corporate events within the center, including individual meeting spaces, classrooms, the auditorium or the whole building.

“Outside rentals generate a significant amount of revenue for us,” Lott remarked. “We rent to any number of local businesses.”

Car dealerships, for instance, have rented the auditorium to unveil new car models on stage, Proctor & Gamble holds regional meetings at the center, the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Grand Rapids Ballet have rented space, and Calvary Church rents the entire building every Sunday for child-care purposes.

Local businesses also support the center by sponsoring professional stage performances or picking up the cost of advertising for them. Among this season’s performance sponsors are Bone Fish Grill, United Bank, D&W Food Centers, Metron Integrated Health Systems and Norris, Perne & French. On The Town magazine and radio station 95.7 W-Lite are media sponsors this season.

For two years running, Centennial Securities has sponsored the center’s artist-in-residence program, and selected caterers donate a reception for each artist. Falcon Printing donates printed promotional materials and invitations for the artist receptions.

Businesses and individuals also donate money by “buying” theater chairs, interior wall bricks and external sidewalk bricks.

By design, the fine arts center is self-supporting; it doesn’t draw off the district’s operating budget, Lott noted.

Forest Hills voters approved a $12.6 million bond issue in September 2000 to build and equip the center. With voter-approved general obligation bonds, principal and interest are secured by the full faith and credit of the issuer and are supported by the issuer’s taxing power. Lott noted that the bond issue did not include the 42-acre property, which the school district already owned.

A year prior to the center’s opening, the school district kicked off a fundraising effort — the “Arts galore and so much more!” campaign — to create a $5 million dollar endowment fund.

Lott said $1.3 million has been raised toward that goal to date. The district intends to use the interest from the endowment, along with ticket sales, sponsorships and rentals, to perpetually fund the center’s operation.

Jeff Gietzen, co-chair of the Endowment Fund Campaign, said “only” three more gifts are needed to complete the endowment, but they’re hefty ones.

“The three best naming opportunities — the building for $2 million, the theater for $1 million and the lobby for $500,000 — are still available, but we’re grateful for the 416 donors who already contributed over $1.3 million to start our campaign,” Gietzen said.

The 2005-2006 season series of professional performances “offers the most eclectic series ticket available in West Michigan,” according to the fine arts center, and will include a mix of song, dance, drama, comedy and an international circus performance. Performances are scheduled as follows:

  • Sept. 18: Grand Rapids Symphony “Sound Opposites”
  • Sept. 28 and 29: musical “Miss Saigon”
  • Oct. 19: concert by America
  • Dec. 2: concert by “SheDaisy”
  • Dec. 15: “Lord of the Dance”
  • Feb. 17: “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
  • March 29: “Cirque Dreams”    

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