- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

The new BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, with its three performing-arts stages, an exhibition gallery and five arts classrooms, may become the heart of Montgomery County.
At least that's the hope of Marilyn Balcombe, general manager of the nonprofit BlackRock Center for the Arts, which will celebrate its grand opening Dec. 7
"People are already coming and finding it a place to meet with friends," she says. "We have moms come with their kids and drop them off and sit down and have a cup of coffee in the lobby. People are finding it a neat place to be. The more that happens, the more we will become a cultural part of the area."
The $10 million building took about 12 years of planning before the dream of the center, with all of the arts under one roof, became reality, Ms. Balcombe, says.
The 34,000-square foot center sits on 2.5 acres donated by the Artery Group in Bethesda. Funding for the building came from a $2.95 million donation from Milestone Developers in Germantown, $1.9 million from Montgomery County, $1.7 from the state of Maryland and a $3.5 million loan through the BlackRock organization.
For its inaugural season, Ms. Balcombe says the organization sponsored an open call for artwork for the 1,500-square-foot exhibition gallery. The center received about 80 submissions, which will be reviewed in a juried selection process. Although applications are no longer being accepted for 2003, Ms. Balcombe says the same procedure will take place annually.
The center plans to host exhibits every month. Currently, the gallery features "Montgomery County Artists; Works on Paper," which contains about 80 pieces of artwork. It will be on display through Monday. Upcoming presentations include the Art League of Germantown's fall show Nov. 21 through 24.
The state-of-the-art venue also is attracting acclaimed artists for its performing-arts stages, says Stephen Jarrett, director of performing arts for the center. Irish musician Frankie Gavin will perform on the main stage at 8 p.m. Nov. 30. Mr. Gavin's fiddle, flute and tin-whistle playing has inspired audiences around the world. The Irish Times describes Mr. Gavin as "the man who has shaped Irish traditional music."
Mr. Jarrett says he is excited about the premiere season, even if the number of events seems rather ambitious. The organization is sponsoring about 60 programs in its inaugural year.
The center has an outdoor amphitheater for musical and theatrical events, films and children's matinee performances. Inside the building, the 210-seat main stage hosts theatrical productions, concerts, lectures and films. It also includes a 150-seat dance theater.
"We wanted to come on in a rush," he says. "We wanted to show ourselves for what we are. We wanted to put shows on all the time."
Although the schedule at the center may not be as prestigious as the calendar at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mr. Jarrett says he believes it equals the lineup at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda. He hopes the people who come to hear folk music will be intrigued enough by the venue to return for other performances, such as classical concerts.
"We are determined to succeed," Mr. Jarrett says. "That means we have to be clever at every turn. We don't want to be seen as snobbish, but we want to be seen as quality."
BlackRock Center for the Arts also is committed to providing the community with professional arts education, says Deanna Maria Costa, arts education coordinator.
The center offers four semesters of classes and workshops for children, teens and adults in dance, literary arts, music, theater arts and visual arts. Classes for home-schooled children and people with special needs are available as well. The winter semester runs Jan. 6 through March 15. The programs focus on an array of topics, including social dance, oil painting, poetry, West African drumming, Latin dance, rug hooking, ballet, stained glass, jazz dance, watercolor, clay sculpting, drawing, acting, fiction writing and modern dance.
"We want to make sure we are constantly meeting the needs of the community," Ms. Costa says, "so they are getting the highest level of training we can offer in a professional environment We are hoping to offer an enriching experience to make arts part of their lives. It's a good opportunity for people to try new things."
For more information about the BlackRock Center for the Arts, check the Web site at www.blackrockcenter.org.

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