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A Cure for the Edifice Complex?

The recent economic challenges have heightened awareness of and concern for the proliferation of visual and performing arts facilities built in the last 20 years with unsupportable debt and/or insufficient working capital.  Given the challenges that arts groups face raising public and private sector support to build expensive “starchitect” designed facilities, it is not surprising that building campaigns often skimp on raising additional endowment for current operations and future capital improvements.

The recent announcement that Larry Goldman, New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s founding CEO, is leaving to head the center’s affiliated NJPAC Development Corporation prompted me to wonder why more arts groups do not take leadership roles in the development of surrounding commercial property.  Those who develop arts facilities usually cite the positive impact that Lincoln Center has had on residential and retail development on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but often fail to recognize the opportunity Lincoln Center missed by not investing in that neighborhood’s development.  More recently, organizations like Playhouse Square in Cleveland have made adjacent commercial development a core part of their missions to provide audiences with a satisfying overall visitor experience.  They have come to realize that taking a proactive role in the development of nearby shops and restaurants on land they control can provide an ongoing source of ancillary revenue and take some pressure off the need for philanthropic support.


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