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Wednesday, July 9, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  A Few Clouds
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What the Overture Center does for Madison
Look beyond the headlines to see arts venue's value

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Have we lost sight of what Overture Center is all about? The performances, the creativity, the artistic expression?

Through the lengthy civic debate about models, governance and bank debt, the amazing artists and staff continue to make the magic happen to enrich the lives of audiences at Overture. Attendance numbers are up. Broadway subscription sales have increased more than 100% over last season (and last season was The Lion King year).

This season is off to a strong start with Wicked selling at 98% capacity, and sellouts with Anthony Bourdain and the Silk Road Project with Yo-Yo Ma.

You - the members of the community, the audience - are why these performances happen.

Overture Center's mission is "to engage the community in the arts." Even through financial hard times with pressure to cut, Overture did not stop community programming. More than 447,816 patrons enjoyed performances at Overture in the past year. More than 198,618 enjoyed them for free or at low cost.

In response to a proposal that would have the city buy the center and a nonprofit group manage it, the Common Council has proposed a new plan to support Overture's mission. In this plan, a not-for-profit community foundation would own and operate the center, and the city would provide an annual grant to support its activities.

The foundation would handle fundraising, capital improvements, operational oversight and building community support. Overture would be managed by professionals; advised by a board composed of business leaders, members of the arts community and community leaders; and supported by a proposed citizen advisory group.

At the top of this advisory group's to-do list: increase community involvement in Overture.

The council will vote on the future of Overture as early as Nov. 30 in an attempt to meet a year-end deadline for settling the center's debt. Whatever path the city takes, I'm confident that Overture officials and staff will redouble their efforts to create a welcoming place for all to enjoy.

Every week in Madison brings a vast array of arts and entertainment opportunities - amazingly diverse events all over town. Madison is a veritable hot spot for creative expression.

Overture doesn't have a lock on quality arts and entertainment. It shares this distinction with clubs, community centers and performing arts centers all over the region, from the Barrymore Theatre to the Stoughton Opera House.

But what Overture, with its resident companies, can do for the community is to strive to provide the very best. Fans will tell you how much they enjoy the performances in Overture; many would say the venues have helped the resident companies deliver even higher-quality performances.

Madison-area residents know what visual and performing arts do for us as a community. In these times of stress and uncertainty, one can go to the theater, a museum or a concert of any kind and be engaged, then go home uplifted, happy and entertained.

And for children who have these cultural opportunities, the payback is even greater. The arts teach us to be creative, to reach for excellence, to take risks and to consider things in a new way. All of this is the gift from Overture Center to the community.

So, members of the community, I challenge you to engage. And that means you. If you've not been to a show at Overture, find one of the many that appeals to you, buy tickets and go. (There's parking right across the street.) If you are on a tight budget, enjoy one of the many free events.

To stay away is to miss the opportunity to be enriched. The folks at Overture will provide you with remarkable experiences.

Linda Baldwin is associate publisher of Isthmus and chair of the Madison Cultural Arts District, a quasi-governmental organization set up by the city to guide Overture.

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