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The History of Germantown Performing Arts Center

Post Date:05/10/2019 10:00 AM
History of GPAC
As early as the 1980s, citizens of Germantown dreamed of having a performing arts center. Realizing that the world’s greatest cities invest in arts and cultural centers and maintain them at their core, the City’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen began construction on a civic complex that would serve as a multi-purpose facility for recreational and cultural needs. The Germantown Centre, now known as the Germantown Athletic Club, opened in early 1990. Two years later, with demand for cultural activity space already exceeding what the Centre could provide, the City raised funds and secured approval to make a world-class performance hall in the heart of Germantown a reality. Designed by Germantown architect David McGehee and equipped with continental style seating, outstanding acoustics, 864 seats, a grand lobby, a sprung floor ideal for dance, eight spacious dressing rooms and an intimate black box theater, GPAC was tasked with a mission to serve the community by presenting the highest-quality artistic endeavors to engage, educate, enrich and transform.
 
On November 19, 1994, legendary singer Ray Charles became the very first performer at GPAC, setting the bar high and immediately defining the space as a place “where excellence is the norm.” Season after season, GPAC has presented exceptional dance and music, year-round educational activities for all ages, rotating visual arts exhibits and multiple community events, welcoming over 100,000 visitors annually. While operating on City-owned property, GPAC is a 501(c)3 that is governed by a 19-member board and has been professionally managed by Executive Director Paul Chandler for the past six years. Over the years, the non-profit’s roles as presenter, educator and venue manager have all greatly expanded. Between September of 2018 and June of 2019, GPAC will have hosted over 60 programs and performances and over 240 arts-related events will have occurred. The list of GPAC’s primary users has grown and includes Opera Memphis, New Ballet Ensemble, IRIS Orchestra, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Collage Dance Collective, Germantown Symphony Orchestra, GPAC’s Youth Symphony Orchestra, Children’s Ballet Theatre, Madonna Learning Center and many others.  During Chandler’s tenure, GPAC has seen an increase in performances, ticket sales, contributions and educational offerings.
 
GPAC Today
Currently operating with a staff of 12 full-time and 5 part-time employees, assisted by a cadre of 140 dedicated volunteer ushers, GPAC’s staff and board are committed to presenting an array of artists; increasing the quality, quantity and variety of programming and educational offerings; marketing to a wide cross-section of the community; making the arts accessible to undeserved and disabled constituents; and building relationships with new audiences for the future.
 
The arts and organizations like GPAC generate a range of benefits for people and society, from bringing individuals pleasure and inspiration, to helping communities build stronger bonds. They are also significant economic drivers. Arts organizations like GPAC and its users are constantly challenged to build and diversify both their audiences and donor base. The idea for The Grove, GPAC’s new outdoor performance venue, grew out of this challenge.
 
History of The Grove
A seasoned live entertainment producer with extensive experience creating, producing and managing outdoor concert events, GPAC Executive Director Paul Chandler seized upon the idea of The Grove shortly after his arrival in 2012. North of the GPAC theater lies a 1.5 acre tract, owned by the City of Germantown, nicknamed The Grove because of the shade provided by the trees that surround the grassy, naturally sloped area.

Intrigued by the outdoor space, he decided to test how the community would respond to  performances outdoors at GPAC by holding outdoor events with live music and food trucks before shows began indoors. In 2016, Chandler announced the GPAC Food Truck & Music Festival for a Saturday in June, hoping about 750 people would attend. The day of the festival, bleak weather forced GPAC to announce via social media that the event was rescheduled for the next day. That Sunday, over 3,000 people showed up to enjoy the festivities. Several subsequent outdoor events were similarly attended, convincing Chandler that a permanent outdoor facility using the undeveloped City-owned land next to GPAC, was feasible.
 
The Campaign
In the fall of 2016, Chandler formally presented the idea for The Grove to City officials and the GPAC board of directors. The idea was met with great enthusiasm, as it fit in to the citizen-led Forward 2030 strategic plan for long term growth and specifically fulfilled the self-identified need for “creative placemaking - strengthening the bond residents share and recognizing emotional ties to communal spaces.” For ten months, City leaders cleared budget and logistical hurdles to move ahead, while GPAC and Archimania developed design and construction plans. The City agreed to provide half of the project’s original projected budget of $4 million, with the non-profit GPAC raising the other half. The City and GPAC also agreed to split the design fees and that the City would retain ownership of both the land and the newly constructed space itself. A capital campaign was announced by GPAC in September of 2017, before the opening concert of their 2017-18 performance season.
 
Support for the project from the GPAC board and the public was immediate. GPAC rapidly sought and gained capital campaign commitments from the Plough Foundation, the Assisi Foundation, FedEx, AutoZone, TruGreen, First Tennessee Foundation, Duncan-Williams, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, nexAir, the Canale Foundation and Mid-America Apartments. Corporate and foundation support, combined with a groundswell of individual support from GPAC donors and Germantown citizens, allowed GPAC to exceed its original fundraising goal in record time. Still, by the time the construction bids were in, soaring construction costs nationwide had ratcheted the project budget to just over $5 million. Several key components, such as perimeter fencing, parking and sidewalk upgrades and elements of the simulcast technology were set aside for future fundraising. Grinder Tabor & Grinder won the bid and broke ground on the project in January of 2019. 
 
GPAC announced Phase II of its capital campaign and has been steadily adding to its long list of contributors. Just last week, GPAC received a $2.5 million grant from the State of Tennessee for the project in recognition of GPAC’s role as a leader in the region’s arts landscape and the impact The Grove will have on the expansion of that role. This initiative was led by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-District 31) and Representative Mark White (R - District 83) who identified the grant opportunity and tirelessly advocated for the project. “Germantown is an exceptional community that offers a wonderful quality of life,” said Representative Mark White. “Adding The Grove to our Performing Arts Center will create renewed synergy and excitement for a great community,” added Representative White. This grant will allow for the completion of the project with the perimeter fencing, sidewalk and parking lot upgrades and additional technology included as originally planned. The Grove is tentatively scheduled for completion in late fall of this year.
 
What is The Grove?
The Grove is designed to be an outdoor reflection of GPAC’s indoor space, aiming at the same level of experience, quality and diversity of talent, and educational experiences, presented in a lush shady-setting called the TruGreen lawn. There is a covered 40’ by 60’ stage that will feature a giant 18’ by 31.2’ extremely high definition video screen. The screen will be mounted on a trolley, allowing for it to be moved upstage and become the performance, or downstage, to assist or enhance a performance. All types of performances will be possible - theater, dance, orchestras and every genre of music, and there will be both ticketed and non-ticketed events. There will also be a paved entrance plaza, called the First Tennessee Foundation Plaza, which will welcome guests, feature a large covered bar, seating areas, performance areas for small combos, the Donor Wall, art areas and more. There will be parking and electricity for three food trucks and a VIP area.
 
Quite significantly, The Grove’s technology will allow for GPAC to simulcast performances or rehearsals taking place indoors in the Duncan-Williams Performance Hall onto the giant screen. This capability will put GPAC in the ranks of the most innovative performing arts center in the nation, as it will become one of only three centers currently employing this technology. “GPAC continuously raises the bar for artistic excellence in our city,” said Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo. 
 
The Grove’s park-like setting will accommodate approximately 1,200 guests to a wide variety of events - some specifically for families and some intended more for grown ups, attracting folks seeking a more casual atmosphere in which to enjoy the arts. The Grove will serve GPAC’s needs, as well as the needs of its primary arts users, by attracting new audiences and providing an exciting alternative performance space. “The Grove will be an incredible asset to the unmatched quality of life our community has to offer,” Mayor Palazzolo added. 
 
The Future

The Grove’s unique location - adjacent to the Duncan Williams Performance Hall, steps from The Residences and Market Row at Thornwood, the Germantown Athletic Club and the Germantown Library, places it squarely in the center of a vibrant cultural district. This purposeful placement is tied directly to Germantown’s Forward 2030 vision, a strategic vision that is truly a product of the community, with meaningful and actionable measures created by Germantown residents. The vision places a high value on enhancing and protecting community quality of life, with arts, culture and creativity at its core. “GPAC has become the premier presenting arts organization in the Mid-South region,” said Bill Watkins, Treasurer of the GPAC Board of Directors. “It has assisted other arts organizations in Memphis to make them successful while enhancing the Germantown community arts experience,” added Watkins.  
 
As effective cultural ambassador for Germantown to the rest of the region, GPAC has worked tirelessly for 25 years to provide excellent, accessible and inviting arts, entertainment and culture to the local community and beyond. “The Grove will be an unequaled arts experience within hundreds of miles of its facility and the citizens of Germantown can be extremely proud of their arts facilities,” stated Watkins. With the creation of The Grove, this work and GPAC’s role in the region will expand, and with it its impact on the economy and quality of life. 
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