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Flash News & Analysis, 6-8: Diaghilev Redux
Walker Art Center, with $77 Million in its Pocket, Gets its Own Theater, Heralding a New Era of Collaboration in the U.S.

By Robin Hoffman
Copyright 2004 Robin Hoffman

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NEW YORK -- Nearly 100 years ago, Serge Diaghilev brought his Russian Ballet company to Paris and began instigating collaborations between his choreographers and the new guard of visual artists and composers, people with names like Picasso, Stravinsky, and Satie. Diaghilev was the catalyst for a dialogue among the arts that opened a new chapter in dance history and made a sensational impact on the public. At the dawn of the 21st century, the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis is making a move toward creating a similar cultural impact in the United States, details of which the center announced May 18 at a New York City press luncheon.

Long a force in the creation of new work in the performing and visual arts, the Walker has embarked upon a $92 million expansion which includes a full-sized theater located on-site and designed to spark collaboration between artistic disciplines. $67.5 million will go towards construction and $24.5 million to the center's endowment, to benefit operations. $77 million has already been raised, the center announced, from 120 individuals, corporations, and foundations. A $10 million gift from William W. and Nadine M. McGuire specifically directs $8 million to the construction of the new theater and $2 million to commissions.

While the Walker Arts Center is widely known as a beautiful, spacious museum for contemporary art in Minneapolis, it is also a major presenter of dance and other performing arts. Additionally, the Walker regularly collaborates on commissions with such organizations as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Lincoln Center Festival. Beneficiaries of commissions or residencies by the Walker have included Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Bill T. Jones, and Rennie Harris.

The Walker currently has a small amphitheater, which does have a sprung floor, but in the past most major dance residencies sponsored by the center had to be housed at other venues in town. That is soon to change, for the expansion will not only double the size of the entire existing museum facility, but add a substantial theater with fly loft and 2,800 square feet of stage area. The brand new theater space will still be intimate to a degree, because the house seats only 385. The emphasis here is as much on process as product; part of the plan is to make the space available to artists-in-residence in one or two week blocks of time so they can fine-tune their productions on a real stage facility. Appropriately, the new theater is called the Performing Arts Studio.

Architects' rendering of the Walker Art Center's new Performing Arts Studio. Image courtesy Walker Art Center, and copyright Herzog & de Meuron, April 2002.

The Walker's commitment to the cross-pollination of the visual, performing, and media arts is evident in the design of the entire expansion. At the New York press luncheon, performing arts curator Philip Bither explained that previously, when performing artists have been in residence at the Walker, they haven't been located at the actual museum, and the rigors of developing their own pieces usually leave them no time to come across town and see the art galleries. Having an in-house theater will provide access and encouragement for the performing and the visual artists-in-residence to get to know each other's work. Besides the mere proximity of performing and gallery spaces, key features in the expansion's architecture are a number of convenient "social spaces," lounges and common areas with seating and sweeping views.

The public is certainly not left out of this equation. The new theater includes balcony spaces that, with the artists' permission, can be accessible to visitors during museum hours, offering them a peek at the creative process. The newly expanded Walker Art Center is scheduled to open in April of 2005. Please click here to see more of architects Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's renderings of the new Walker Art Center.

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