Reser arts center represents 'house of hope' during COVID
Just a short walk from the Beaverton Central MAX Station and The Round on Southwest Cedar Hills and Hall boulevards stands what many hope will become a cultural icon in Beaverton.
The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts will be open to the public in early March, with an opening week of performances starting March 8 that will include Zimbabwean music group Nobuntu and the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra.
The unveiling of the arts center this spring will also be a sort of "unveiling" of the Beaverton Creek as well, with the center's floor to ceiling windows revealing an oasis of ducks and greenery. On clear days, Mt. Hood can be seen from the center's lobby. Portland-based construction company Skanska led the development of the new interdisciplinary arts center.
Executive director Chris Ayzoukian hopes the center will also be a debut of Beaverton's own arts and culture scene, often overshadowed by Portland and Hillsboro. But he doesn't see the Reser putting Beaverton in "competition" of its neighbors, but rather "as lifting of all boats."
"We see ourselves as a convener to draw more attention and engagement with the arts" on Portland's Westside, Ayzoukian said.
As Pat Reser herself told Pamplin Media Group last year, the center will be much more than just a venue.
The ground floor will feature a gallery of Pacific Northwest artists, while an upstairs all-purpose room will be used for just about anything from specialty classes to high-top table comedy nights.
The $51 million project got nearly half its funding from fundraisers and donations, including from Reser, who has been involved in the project from the get-go.
She told Pamplin Media Group last month that she wants the center to be "for everyone."
"(Arts) should never just be a privilege," she said.
And accessibility is something Ayzoukian tries to emphasize, noting that the way the center is designed is meant to be inviting, and encourage openness.
The lobby of the center — bathed in natural light, thanks to large windows and a glass roof — will be open to the public. People will be welcome to sip coffee, socialize and admire the public art that is set to be installed both inside and outside the lobby.
The theater is also a warm, welcoming space, but much more intimate. Modeled after the inside of a beaver's home, the space is lined with back-lit wood panels positioned along the wall and ceiling. The panels serve both an aesthetic and acoustic purpose, Ayzoukian said.
"That was very deliberately designed so that when you have louder things in here, there's enough space for the soft escape," he said, "so you don't blow people out of their seats. That's really important in an intimate space like this. Those slats and then the openings up to the catwalks is where the sound kind of blooms, if you will."
The circular nature of the seat arrangement ensures there is no "bad seat'' in the house, Ayzoukian said. Audience members will sit almost embracing the stage, adding to the intimacy of the space.
The stage itself is almost as large as the entire audience chamber, with the capacity to host a wide range of different performances. While the theater does not have an orchestra pit, Ayzoukian said that the center will be able to accommodate some Broadway-style musical performances that use smaller ensembles.
The opening of the new arts center serendipitously falls around the second anniversary of Oregon's COVID-19 lockdown. The significance of the timeline of the center's unveiling is not lost on Ayzoukian.
"I call this the house of hope, in many ways, because more than ever, we really need the arts to bring us all together," he said. "The arts are sort of the heart and the soul of a city, and I think people are hungry for communal experiences again. I know I am."
Ayzoukian is cautiously optimistic. He acknowledged that while Beaverton has big plans for the Reser Center's inaugural season, its schedule — like the rest of us — is still at the mercy of COVID-19.
"Safety is number one," he said. "So should there be another variant that disallows gatherings, we follow it and we pivot."
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