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A plan to save UC Theatre, nurture arts

Steven Finacom
Thursday May 23, 2002

To the Editor: 

No, a thousand times no, to the idea that the UC Theatre should be demolished and replaced with a small theater space and housing. 

How absurd is it that the City can invest literally millions of dollars in helping to build a new large theater space for one performing arts group (the Berkeley Repertory Theatre), then a few years later and literally next door, allow one of Berkeley’s pre-eminent and most historic large theaters to be demolished? 

What does Berkeley need to do to avoid this type of tragedy? First, inventory all the current and potential performing arts facilities in the city, both public and private. There are magnificent spaces that have literally been sitting vacant for years, particularly as many of Berkeley’s older clubs and churches have shrunk in membership and activities. Those spaces should live again in new institutional and performing arts use. 

Second, inventory all the facilities needs, current and projected, of performing arts groups in Berkeley. 

Third, compare the two lists to identify opportunities where unused spaces like the UC can be put back into use by performing arts groups that are crying out for suitable venues. Coordinate all relevant city offices and policy-making — Zoning, Planning, Economic Development, etc. — to help make this happen. 

Fourth, stop funding facilities construction for specific groups and, instead, fund the acquisition or construction of facilities. This would mean an end to direct loans or grants of public funds for construction of facilities like the Black Repertory Theatre and the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater, that become the property of a particular arts organization and are solely used and controlled by a single group. 

Instead, the city would invest in performance spaces that could be shifted back and forth between user groups, depending on the need and demand in the arts community. This would ensure that spaces the city has helped create, like the Black Repertory Theatre building, don’t sit around underused. 

Fifth, examine how the city and the local arts community can work together to create a non-profit organization charged with the sole purpose of acquiring, developing, maintaining, and managing local arts facilities. 

Such an organization could be employed to purchase or lease underused buildings such as the UC Theater and match them up with, and re-lease them out to, arts groups like the Berkeley Symphony that have a clear need for space, but do not necessarily have the financial wherewithal, schedule, or organizational expertise to buy or manage a theater on their own. 

Berkeley has a vibrant performing arts community, a small but dedicated civic arts program and staff, enthusiastic audiences, and many facilities that can work well for the arts. 

It would be a terrible waste to let irreplaceable opportunities and historic spaces like the UC Theatre disappear because of a lack of will, cooperation, and coordination of resources. 


- Steven Finacom