Creating an arts magnet in Delray Beach

If you don’t have a scorecard, you might not be able to follow the play but the play, the playing, the displaying and the plain old fun are what it’s all about at Delray Beach’s newly forming global arts Mecca – the Arts Garage.

 

Located at 180 NE First Street, the Arts Garage occupies the storefront space on the lower level of Old School Square Parking Garage. So parking is not only free and easy, it’s a weather-friendly traverse from parking place to performance space – and what a space it is.

The Arts Garage launched in April, 2011 with a program called “The Jazz Project,” which was well-received and continues to draw crowds on the first and fourth Saturdays of the month.

According to Program Director Matthew Farmer, the Arts Garage hopes to make Delray Beach the center for jazz in South Florida. But jazz isn’t all.

On Oct 1 they celebrated the opening of the new season with “live.art” and “Creation!” described on their website as “a night of musical performance, movement, song, spoken word, poetry and live creation of art.”

And it grows from there.

The Arts Garage is under the direction of Alyona Ushe, executive director, and Farmer who is not only the emcee at every show but is also a participating professional crooner, having earned his vocal chops on Celebrity Cruise ships and more recently as choir director at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.

“We were looking for Matthew,” said the Ushe, who comes from Russia and has spent most of her life in Washington, DC where she created and ran a theater company. “We just didn’t have his name when we wrote the ad.”

While Farmer said: “When I saw what they were trying to do, I knew I had to be part of it. It just had my name on it.”

She obviously loves what he’s doing and he obviously loves doing it as he rattles off all the events, projects and programs he is orchestrating for the coming months.

“We’re making this an arts magnet,” he said.  “Not only for Delray Beach and South Florida but nationally and internationally as well,” he added, citing a newly developed partnership with Alliance Française of South Florida that will bring French artists to the Arts Garage.

And it’s not just Ushe and Farmer who are doing this.  It’s a concerted effort by the City of Delray Beach and the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). And, according to Ushe, the commitment of the downtown community at large.

“For example,” she said, “Chuck Halberg, the president of Stuart & Shelby Developers designed and built the moveable walls and stage.

One of the many unique features of the project is the “BYOW” (bring your own whatever) policy at every performance along with cabaret seating at the front of the audience space and auditorium seating behind.

“We want to make it feel a little like Tanglewood where you can bring your food and drink and have a family experience,” said Farmer.  “It’s also a little easier on our visitors’ wallets,” he added.

The Arts Garage has something for just about anyone who likes any of the arts.  In addition to the music, there are plays and movies and dance and painting and photography and more.

There are educational programs for kids and adults and “mature audience” puppets for adults and on the last Sunday of the month “female illusionists,” (drag queens) entertain before  retiring down the street to Tag Bar for some much needed R&R.

Genres and performances are many and prices vary so take a tour of the website to decide what to experience and buy your tickets and help make Delray Beach the arts capital its planners plan it to be.

Visit DelrayBeachArts.org for more information.


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