It has been more than a year since the city’s new performing arts center was supposed to raise its curtain.
Then came COVID-19 and the world stood still.
The new $93 million Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts was suddenly frozen in time.
In a game of hopes and prayers and frantic guesswork, acts were
shuffled and shuffled again on the calendar as the pandemic scrambled our lives. The coronavirus still hasn’t gone away completely, and is, in fact, threatening a full-bore encore — if we allow it.
But the show will go on Thursday night.
The sparkling new 110,000-square-foot limestone-and-glass venue will open its doors for its very first public performance … with a few twists.
When supremely talented Grammy Award-winner and Greensboro native Rhiannon Giddens performs with Italian instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, the audience will be masked from the first song till the last.
And anyone who intends to settle into one of the auditorium’s 3,023 seats to hear them also will have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result within 48 hours before the performance.
This requirement comes at the request of the artists, who see it not onlyas a reasonable safeguard but as an act
of compassion and community.“I believe that the only way forward is in taking care of each other as best we can,” Giddens said in an interview with the News & Record’s Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane.
“Getting vaxx’d (or taking a test if there’s a reason you cannot or will not vaccinate) was the only way I could justify gathering people together and not being afraid I was creating a spreader event.”
This may not be how we envisioned the Tanger Center’s opening night, nearly 10 years ago, when a community task force began to study whether a new arts venue was feasible — and if so, how and where?
But it will be well worth the minor inconvenience, not to mention the wait.
Even without the COVID delay this project has been a long time coming.
The Tanger Center is the result of vision, hard work, an unprecedented private fundraising campaign, led by now-U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, and a collaboration between the city and those private donors. The Greensboro Coliseum’s director, Matt Brown, and his staff will manage the facility.
As targets were reached and then surpassed, the fundraising goal stretched higher and the bar for quality and amenities kept rising as well.
Not that it was easy. Along the way there were construction delays and deep conversations about how a public partnership of this scale should work.
Then there was the matter of where to build it. In the beginning it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the Tanger Center would be located downtown.
There were discussions as well about the Tanger Center’s impact on the local arts community and the role it can and should play as a place that all of Greensboro should feel welcome to attend and to use. Similar discussions preceded the opening of the Greensboro Aquatic Center and they made an important difference.
As for what’s to come, in a word: plenty.
Following Thursday’s concert by Giddens and Turrisi, Michael Cavanaugh and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra perform Friday night. There will be touring Broadway shows, Guilford College’s Bryan Lecture Series, lots more concerts, comedy shows and the Greensboro Opera.
But for now, Giddens provides the perfect opening act.
She is so fluent in so many musical styles that it’s hard to keep count. She plays the fiddle, the banjo and the viola. She sings opera, blues, folk, jazz, bluegrass and Celtic. She has performed at both the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals.
In voice and in spirit, she embodies one of this city’s greatest assets: its rich ethnic and cultural diversity (which we will witness again with the return of the North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro on Sept. 10-12).