Dreams are wonderful, but when they touch upon an entire community, they must be rooted in reality. For nearly eight years, various groups in the
Kennett region have discussed the potential for a symphony hall or performing arts center that would serve a multitude of organizations and purposes. The Kennett Symphony conducted a study in 1998. The Kennett Common concept included a town hall auditorium. Flexible space for conferences has been on the list. And now the most recent study, funded by generous local contributions, has been completed.
Is there a desire for a facility that might be known as a cultural arts center in Kennett Square? Yes there is. However, that does not necessarily translate into sufficient funding or enough dependable use to make the reality economically feasible. The conclusion is that this is not the time to move ahead with a facility. And that is the message that Genovese, Vanderhoof & Associates, a respected cultural arts marketing consultant from Toronto, has delivered to the Kennett Cultural Center Steering Committee.
Is the committee disappointed? Yes and no. Cold water dashed on a dream is rarely welcome, but in this case it is balanced by the impressive discovery of venues and arts groups of which most of us were unaware - or at the least never thought to bring together in a comprehensive list. The opportunities to expand the image of Kennett Square as the center of a thriving professional and amateur performing arts community have never been greater.
A facility including a smaller auditorium than in the 1998 study may very well be viable in the near future particularly when an anchor performing arts group steps forward to lead the way.
It is exciting to realize that, since interest in a centralized performance venue surfaced in the late '90s, there has been considerable upgrading and expansion of facilities within a fifteen-mile radius of Kennett Square.
Kennett High School's renovated auditorium is nearly completed. A new $34-million center for performing arts is under way at West Chester University.
The Coatesville Cultural Center surfaces as a valuable community resource with two theaters, large and small. The Arts Scene in West Chester offers an art center, gallery and studio. Longwood Garden's open-air theatre is being renovated, and there is a generous choice of school auditoriums available for appropriate uses. The choices are surprisingly generous, and bode well for healthy support of the arts in the region.
The arts-oriented organizations work with budgets ranging from $2,000 to $5.7 million, and their needs are equally wide ranging.
Fortunately this does not leave the Kennett Cultural Center Steering Committee without a cause to champion. The missing link among these resources is communication and marketing - the absence of a true "arts alliance" that maintains an inventory of the arts groups themselves, available meeting and performance space availability, and perhaps a centralized ticketing service. The more dramatic vision of a performing arts center in Kennett may not be timely, but the opportunity to strengthen and promote what does exist is very clear. And, the committee is pleased to accept a study that charts practical, immediate options in the best interests of the community. Welcome to the Kennett Regional Cultural Alliance!
The final report is available for review at the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library and at Kennett Borough Hall.
Nancy Mohr, for the Kennett Cultural Center Committee