Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Overture Center: Nice Version


You know, it really is a nice building. That "unused space" is the atrium, which is like four stories tall. It's EMPTY, though, and that still bugs me. Straight up, straight down. At least the rotunda at the entrance has a decorative purpose all its own; I just don't see the point to all that rectangular emptiness.

They had a nice origami exhibit by the bathrooms. I meant what I said about the bathrooms being designed by space aliens, but, come on, they're bathrooms, it's pretty minor.

I still stand by what I said about the signs. They are illegible, a thin, small, dark gray typeface on clear glass with a white background. The way they're lit, the words cast shadows behind them at every angle. The directional arrows get lost in a blur of shadow. You need to be standing directly in front of them, no more than a couple of feet away. That's not good, because people are supposed to be navigating by these signs: Mezzanine this way, Orchestra that way. I don't know about other people, but when I'm trying to find something, I don't really stop and stand two feet away from a sign--I take a quick head-check to make sure I'm going the right way. I think it's a huge usability issue.

And I stand by what I said about there being a better use for $200 million in this community. There are a lot of smaller arts companies that are still struggling in the face of the arts district, and what it comes down to is that the $200 million didn't go to fund the arts in Madison: it went to fund what Jerry Frautschi thinks the arts are. It's not doing a damn thing for anyone who can't afford to put on a production in that space. I have nothing against the large touring productions and established "serious" arts organizations like the Symphony and the Madison Ballet. But, and correct me if I'm wrong, Overture is causing (and will continue to cause) a huge financial burden on the smaller companies that used to use the Civic Center. I think an arts grant should benefit every artist, not just a favored few. "The arts" is more than just the symphony and the ballet and "Cats" every year.

(I know, I'm not being entirely fair. Some of that money did go to smaller groups, including some money to complete the renovation of the Bartell. I still the money could have been used in a way that benefited everyone, and I do mean everyone. You know how much it's going to cost to use the Center? Smaller organizations and groups are going to be frozen out on a cost basis alone, effectively dividing the city into an Arts District and an Arts Ghetto. And how confident are they in Overture's drawing power, when they were so concerned that a casino and theater would take away from Overture's audience? And have I mentioned that they're having trouble selling tickets at Overture?)

In case you're wondering what "nice" means, it means that I'm not cursing and I'm not ranting. But it is a very pretty building, very spare, with lots of straight lines (except, obviously, for the rotunda).


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