To the editor:

Raina Wiseman’s editorial in the East Tennessean (February 11) expresses excitement about the new Martin Center for the Arts. After dreaming about this building for nearly 30 years, many of us are thrilled to drive past the construction site to view progress first-hand. I’d like to provide more insights regarding what to expect from the Martin Center.

Construction should be completed in 12-14 months, and we plan to schedule major events beginning in the Fall 2020 semester. While the Martin Center will offer new programming, it’s important to remember this building will improve recruitment, retention, and education of students, especially students enrolled in classes offered by the Departments of Music and Theatre and Dance.

In addition to the main auditorium, the building includes a recital hall and rehearsal rooms (classrooms) for instrumental music, choral music, and percussion, plus four individual practice rooms for students. With the growth of programs in Music, Mathes Hall has become extremely crowded and over-used. The new spaces in the Martin Center will greatly improve classroom and performance needs for the department and will help the department address accreditation standards.

The building includes a black box theatre as well as space for set and costume design and construction. Theatre productions are currently held in the Bud Frank Theatre and in the Studio 205 in the Campus Center Building. Neither of these spaces adequately prepare students for careers, especially for those students pursuing design and technical tracks. The new spaces will help the department improve safety concerns for students and staff working in theatrical productions and improve some issues with accreditations concerns.

Many people have expressed interest in what will happen in the main auditorium of the Martin Center. ETSU has long suffered from a lack of gathering spaces for large meetings and events, and the main auditorium seating, stage area, technical abilities, and supporting spaces will improve the university’s ability to host large events. These events include ETSU produced performances—music and bluegrass concerts, theatre and dance performances, film screenings, and more—as well as other events including pinning ceremonies, public speakers, large meetings, convocations, and touring artists and companies.

The Martin Center will allow the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts to host artists we’ve long struggled to present. Dance, theatre, variety acts, and some concerts have been limited for the Martin School due to narrow technical capabilities of the Culp Center Auditorium and other facilities on campus and in the region. The Martin Center’s large stage with wings, a fly space above, an orchestra pit, adjustable acoustics, and other equipment will allow us to work with many different types of performances and events beyond those we’ve hosted over the past ten seasons.

With the opening of the Martin Center, ETSU will launch a new performance series which will include touring artists more likely to fill the 1,200 seat auditorium. We expect to schedule a mix of music concerts of different genres, theater and musical theatre tours, dance, variety acts (illusionists, comedians, etc.), and speakers. Much of our ability to schedule artists for our series relies upon the university’s ability to secure series and event sponsors from businesses and individuals in the region.

Will we host Broadway tours? The idea of Broadway tours is appealing to many, yet the term ‘Broadway’ applies to a wide selection of performances—from large scale commercial performances to more intimate works of great value. Additionally, there are many excellent national and international tours, including musical theatre productions that have not played on Broadway. We’re already in conversation with agents who represent some Broadway and other theatre tours, and we’re excited about the possibilities we have before us. We’re likely to host tours accepting one or two night performance schedules. Productions such as “Hamilton” require engagements scheduled for a minimum of seven nights.

Will the Martin Center’s performance series resemble the schedule of the Peace Center in Greenville, North Carolina? The Peace Center opened in 1990, and they have had nearly three decades to build audience and attract enough patrons to host large Broadway tours and other artists. They host nearly 600 activities annually, including events produced by eight resident companies of the center.

ETSU’s arts programs already offer over 200 activities annually, and we expect to see this number grow when the Martin Center opens. The Martin School has hosted some artists who have also appeared at the Peace Center. Examples include performances by The Swingles, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, and Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana. Just next week, on February 22, we’re hosting Sybarite5, a rock-star string quintet, and the ensemble will leave Johnson City to travel to engagements at the Peace Center.

The opening of the Martin Center for the Arts will be upon ETSU and the region in the near future. We’re just as enthusiastic about what the future may offer as the excitement expressed in Raina’s editorial. We hope to see you walk through the doors to experience the quality of work presented by ETSU students and faculty as well as the guest artists we’ll bring to the region.

Dare to imagine…

Anita DeAngelis, Director of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts