Performance Anxiety

An interview with Cliff Redd—executive director of the Long Center

When Cliff Redd took over as executive director of the Long Center for the Performing Arts in July 2004, the project appeared to be mortally wounded. The previous director, David Fleming, had resigned after announcing that the ambitious $125 million project was being scaled back. But luckily for Austin, Redd—who previously founded Theatre Arlington and served as artistic director and executive producer for the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas and as executive director of the ArtCentre of Plano—has helmed an impressive “the show must go on” campaign. The Long Center (finally) opens this month.

Let’s dive right in. You grew up in Austin.

I did. Lanier High, class of ’69. Do the math—I’m 56.

But before you were named executive director of the Long Center, back in July 2004, you’d been working in the Metroplex. Was it this project specifically that drew you back to Austin?

It was. This is actually my fifth adaptive reuse project. It was my burning desire for Austin to have its place in the world, to have its own performing arts center. I knew that that was something we just simply had to do.

Where was the project when you came in? Had it already been scaled back at that point?

It was in the process of being scaled back. The project was in the valley of despair but poised to come back around. We can’t undo what happened. We can only look forward. That’s how cities learn this stuff. The fact that we were able to recycle ninety-seven percent of the old Palmer Auditorium—and build the new center for $278 a foot—is national news.

You’ve raised about $81 million, which surpasses the goal of $77 million. Is that right?

That’s correct. One of the things we learned is that the $77 million implied cash in the bank. But many of our pledges were given over time, and so, as much as I love our friends in the banking industry, I made a choice for us to not to spend people’s money because it’s taken the savings and effort of the people of central Texas to build this project. There’s no city money in it at all.

Was the choice to recycle most of the old Palmer Auditorium in place from the beginning?

Whatever your opinions were about the Palmer Auditorium, it was fundamentally a wonderful product in 1959. And it is nonbiodegradable, so it was either to be reused or sit in some kind of scrap dump and never biodegrade, so it made much more sense to recycle it.

You’ve said that the programming at the Long Center is truly your innovation.

The project stands on innovation in every direction. The job of the Long Center is to be a mirror for the city. Of course we’re the home for the symphony, ballet, and opera but it also is our duty to bring the world to Austin. This is the Kennedy Center for the state of Texas.

You’ve released such a diverse lineup. Are there groups in particular you’re excited to bring to Austin?

All of them. We have fastidiously chosen the first eighteen months of programming so far. We look at everything from innovative, evocative dance companies to Broadway. Both of our theaters are equipped for film, so there’s a film component, whether that’s film premieres or Austin filmmakers who want to preview their work here

There have been so many leadership changes in the Austin art community in the last year. When we look back on this time in ten, twenty, thirty years, how are we going to see this crossroads?

We’re changing a lot right now. Downtown is changing almost hourly. Our population, our demographics, are changing very rapidly and arts institutions are probably the most sensitive community so they’re going to change with it. I think our job is to give all the rocket fuel that’s needed to all the arts institutions regardless of discipline. They’re all who we are, and it’s our job to keep them healthy and moving forward. So those changes are good. They’re what we should be doing.

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