For over two years, the lion's share of public attention regarding Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts has been directed toward construction of The Palladium, the neo-classical concert hall that serves as the Center's anchor and icon.
But now that the building is complete, the focus is naturally shifting to what's going to be inside it.
That's where Michael Feinstein comes in.
Feinstein's agreement to be the Center's artistic director in 2009, for a reported salary of approximately half a million dollars, immediately conferred the nascent institution with a profile most fledgling performing arts organizations can only dream about.
Feinstein, who performs 150-plus shows a year, is a five-time Grammy nominee, known as "The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook." He produced and hosted a series on American popular song for PBS, serves on the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board and is director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at Lincoln Center in New York City, where his nightclub, Feinstein's at Loews Regency, has presented such artists as Rosemary Clooney, Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cumming.
What's more, when the Center for the Performing Arts hired Feinstein, it also succeeded in securing his Great American Songbook Collection, a museum-quality collection of documents and artifacts relating to the history of American popular music.
Earlier this month Feinstein spoke with NUVO about what drew him to the Carmel job, why he thinks this work is important, and what he thinks the Center can mean for Carmel and the greater Indianapolis arts scene.
NUVO: What first attracted you to the role of artistic director at the Center for the Performing Arts?
Feinstein: When I was approached by the folks in Carmel and the mayor to ask if I was interested in such a position, I was intrigued by it because I have a very different perspective from those who have been on the other side of the footlights. I've spent my life as a performer, so I have a different sense of what it is like to perform in a specific place, having played in so many different kinds of settings. The thought of being involved with The Palladium, from the very beginning, with the decisions being made about acoustics and the nuts and bolts of its creation, was very exciting to me. Being involved with that, as well as the challenge of programming to appeal to a community – these things got my blood going in a most positive way.
NUVO: It sounds like it's become a creative opportunity for you.
Feinstein: A tremendous one. Challenging, exciting and fresh.
NUVO: You've played other venues in Indianapolis. What is the Center going to bring that we don't already have now?
Feinstein: For one thing, it is certainly the finest structure of its kind in the area. Not only because of the money that was spent on it, but the extraordinary planning to give great care to every detail in a way that makes it truly state-of-the-art. There are certainly many wonderful places to play in the area. But this is a combination of modern technology in the best sense and also an homage to classicism in the architecture. It really is a 21st-century concert experience in a way that is unlike anything else. The physical space where music or any performance art is made dramatically affects the way people experience it. There are many things about a space that cannot be planned or conceived beforehand because there's a magic that happens, a certain kind of synergy that occurs, that is unique to each venue and the people who are there. So I think we have a tremendous opportunity. The building itself, from the moment you see it, gives a sense of grandeur and respect to the arts in a time when we desperately need that.
NUVO: What are Center's greatest assets?
Feinstein: Number one, it's the support of the community that wanted it in the first place. It's wonderful there are people who recognize how essential the arts are for the survival of our civilization. We live in a time when arts funding is cut to the bone and there are generations of children that don't have exposure to music and some people do not look at the arts as important. However, I know that it is the balance of the arts, the balance of left brain and right brain, of mind, body and spirit that make us fully shaped human beings and that make the arts essential to our survival. If you just eat meat and you don't eat vegetables, your body will be out of balance. You will physically suffer.
In the same way, without music and art in our beings, something happens to our brains that short-circuits and keeps us from being fully rounded human beings. I think you can directly correlate the great divide in our country between red and blue states and the people who are so polarized at this point because we do not have the balance of the arts to bring people together, to find common ground. I think that what is happening in our country right now is a direct result of the deprivation of the arts. The dumbing down of our country, the lack of education, test scores being lower than many places in the world for kids – all of this relates to music and the use of the brain. Brains are literally atrophying with the deprivation of the arts. Arts are as essential as breathing air.
So I'm looking at a community that has created this extraordinary structure and that understands that the arts will transform not only Carmel, but the area. With educational programs bringing kids in and community involvement, this will enrich lives in ways that affect the entire journey that we take.