The arts can change people’s hearts, change their minds,
and change their lives. – P. Buckley Moss, artist and philanthropist
Famous American composer and pianist Philip Glass was the opening performer in the Moss Arts Center on Nov. 1, 2013. Just over six years hence, the $100 million arts complex continues to showcase renowned artists and cultural performances from around the world as well as local and regional productions. It is uniquely partnered with the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology or ICAT, an experimental venue dubbed the Cube, and research studios. ICAT offers a multimedia studio, production control room, newsroom and associated classroom in support of the Virginia Tech Department of Communication.
Named for the beloved American artist, generous donor and local resident, P. Buckley Moss, the complex includes the Street and Davis Performance Hall, named as well for generous donors and supporters of the entire vision. The performance hall consists of three levels of lobbies, the grand staircase and the 1,274-seat Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, named for a donation from Eugene Fife.
“The Moss Arts Center has changed the cultural landscape of Blacksburg,” state frequent local patrons Bob Schulman and Debbie Hix. “From its majestic architectural beauty to its perfect acoustical design, it has become the place to enjoy music and the performing arts in Southwest Virginia.”
As with any project of this magnitude and expense, evaluation is ongoing to optimize everything. “We evaluate our efforts continually across a variety of areas,” explains executive director from the beginning Ruth Waalkes. “We monitor ticket sales on a daily basis to understand what is selling well and what is not. That said, the number of tickets sold is not always the primary measure of success. We want to present artists and works that bring new perspectives and experiences. We attend the performances to gauge audience reactions and engage in regular conversations with patrons. In addition, roughly every two years we do a major survey. We also have a highly engaged board who shares their impressions throughout the year. Our box office records patron input regularly, and our content manager engages in conversations through social media. We also measure a number of engagement metrics for both student and community engagement.”
Student participation has been exceptional, even better than anticipated. Also attendance and participation of K-12 schools and students has exceeded expectations, reaching a larger number across a more expansive region than expected. On the patron front, the staff is working to attract audiences from a wider region than currently, striving to host more regular attendees from outside the New River Valley.
One of the neatest things about the Moss Arts Center is its accessibility and outreach within the NRV community and embracing the broader Appalachian regional heritage. Performances include the New River Valley Symphony and Blacksburg Master Chorale, along with bluegrass music, banjo pickers and Crooked Road Mountains of Music Homecoming performances. Community artwork is on exhibit frequently in the galleries including student shows and community art groups.
The international performances are consistently popular, and the most well-attended events tend to be orchestras, theatre and, of course, internationally-renowned performers like Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma. “We’re constantly bringing in new technology, especially in the Cube as we continue leading edge work in immersive environments and spatial music. In the theatre, we added a new sound board last year and have finished an amphitheater on the exterior of the building,” Waalkes relates.
When asked about the next six years, Waalkes responds confidently: “We’re working through a strategic planning process now that will shape what we do next. We plan to do continued, and more extensive, outreach and engagement into the surrounding community, including expanded K-12 and regional partnerships. We’d also like to do more programming outside of the center itself.”
Schulman and Hix enjoy that every year the Moss Arts Center offers a variety of music and entertainment events, as well as travel, science and public interest presentations. “Every season features a genuine superstar performer. We have loved Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell and Philip Glass. This season we are looking forward to Renée Fleming in February. It is wonderful to have such world-class entertainment in our own backyard.”
Mission: The Moss Arts Center transforms lives through exploration and engagement with the arts and creative process.
Vision: The arts will be a deeply embedded and highly valued part of life at Virginia Tech, in Southwest Virginia, and for members of the Virginia Tech community wherever they live and work in the world.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos Courtesy of Moss Arts Center