Art Center’s future remains sound, say its founders

Questions surrounding the state of future funding for Tempe Center for the Arts have been circulating in some local media recently, with reports suggesting that the center could hit a financial dead-end when proceeds from voter-approved Proposition 400 run out in 2020.

Center staff and volunteers have been working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Don Fassinger, the city’s cultural facilities administrator, said Tempe is little different from other arts centers around the country, many of which have been impacted by declining sales tax revenues.

“We’re not hanging by a thread right now, but we don’t want to wait until 2019 to begin discussing strategies in the event the economy is not where it should be,” he said.

Even at Gammage, which was designed to accommodate audiences of 3,000 compared to TCA’s 600, the challenges of operating in the black remain.

“The fallacy is that art centers can sustain themselves without any outside support,” said Fassinger. “That’s just not the case.”

Enter Gail Fisher, one of the chief driving forces behind the development of Tempe Center for the Arts. It was Fisher’s vision, coupled with then-mayor Neil Giuliano’s commitment to the arts and the determination of a handful of others, that pushed the center to reality in September 2007.

With its lakefront views, prime location close to downtown and striking architecture, the center has become a widely versatile venue, offering art exhibits, concerts and theatrical performances.

Since its opening, the center has been called Tempe’s crown jewel, a symbol of the growing lakefront district.

Fisher is passionate about the building and what it has to offer, and says she’ll do whatever it takes to keep it fresh to audiences.

“We took this idea [of the center] and turned it into a grassroots campaign; it’s something we’re really proud of,” she says. “We have grown a lot but I feel the center’s potential is yet to be realized.”

Her organization, Friends of Tempe Center for the Arts, is a nonprofit that “encourages and fosters appreciation of the arts” by offering a full range of programs. She says the volunteer members work tirelessly to continue to offer what showgoers want: the best of the best.

They have created a calendar full of unique branded nights, including “Walk-In Wednesdays,” an open-mic night for amateur performers, and Performance With A View, a one-hour concert series every Tuesday featuring musicians from ASU’s School of Music.

They also boast an impressive calendar of art exhibits.

By keeping its roster fresh and its gallery free of admission charges, the center has built a sizeable pool of regular visitors, but also attracts newcomers with every performance.

“After almost every performance I talk to someone who has never been [to TCA] before,” Fisher says. “And almost every time, they want to come back again.”

The center is also host to Childsplay, Tempe’s resident children’s theater company, which provides performances for the public and schools. “We hope our theater makes a big impression on our children,” Fisher says.

“Our theater’s built to last 100 years, and we want to foster an appreciation for the arts.”

The Friends also give back to the community. Once a year they provide an arts career day, inviting 100 students from around the Tempe Union High School District to listen to various speakers from varying aspects of the field. Students are handpicked by their teachers to take part in this unique opportunity.

Mini grants are offered to schools and teachers to provide field trips since school district funding has dwindled.

In the future, Fisher says she sees the center expanding past its current state and offering programs aimed at the younger demographic. She also hopes the Tea Lounge, currently open on select days, will open for a small lunch service.

“With such beautiful views of the lake, it’d be a waste not to,” she says.

The center’s next high-profile event is part of the Sonoran Chamber Series, a two-year-old program offering chamber orchestra performances on Sunday afternoons. Each concert is unique, each featuring world-renowned musicians.

This one, on April 15, will feature cellist Thomas Landschoot and pianist Martin Katz. Katz will be playing a handmade Ravenscroft grand piano, an instrument made by Scottsdale-based Spreeman Piano Innovations especially for TCA.

Tickets are $25, or $10 for students with a valid I.D. The event starts at 2:30 p.m., and will be followed by a reception with the artists.

More information can be found at  or (480) 350-2822.