By Sarah Kuper
As UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center enters its third decade, its leadership’s mission is much the same as it always was: to entertain and educate the community and the UAB campus.
But a closer look reveals an arts center that is evolving with the times, physically, technologically and programmatically.
In less than a year, the ASC has instituted a new branding campaign, a new website and a new ticketing system.
Much of the center has new, custom-milled carpeting, although the pattern is the same as the original. A new grand drape along with lighting improvements in the Jemison Concert Hall will allow for an even broader range of performances. Plus, the new Meyer sound system puts the venue in an elite class of concert halls.
New signage and a double-sided digital marquee are in the works to be installed before the season begins.
The center’s executive director of 10 months, Anna Thompson, said the improvements are being made not because the building had fallen in disrepair, but because leadership wanted to keep the center as current as possible.
“We are 20 years old – we have stewarded the building very well but there is only so much you can do without updating after 20 years.”
But perhaps most notable and indicative of the center’s direction for the future is a look at this season’s event line up.
With at least 29 performances making up the 20th season, Thompson said she challenges anyone to look at the program and not find something appealing.
“We have a commitment to you to bring you things you haven’t seen before and to introduce new audiences to it,” she said. “We are committed to having multiple price points where nobody is turned away based on the cost of the event.”
The 2016-17 season includes symphony and music group performances, dance productions, speakers, illusionists and festival events.
Genres span the globe with events such as “Celebracion!” – a month-long cultural festival in October honoring the Latin community in Birmingham. In collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the center will offer free events such as performances by Tiempo Libre and dance exhibitions.
“Our global presence has increased with the festivals because of UAB’s priority of diversifying programs to reflect the diverse audiences in the community and on our campus,” Thompson said.
At least three of this season’s offerings are specifically kid-oriented, although Thompson said much of the season is suitable for a young patron of the arts.
Plus, the ASC will be bringing back favorite artists and performances from year’s past as a tribute to the center’s 20 years.
Of course, Thompson notes, a good deal of what the center is able to do for the community is made possible through donors and corporate support.
The new carpet was a gift from EBSCO Industries Inc. and the updated drapery and lighting is the result of a gift from Jane S. Comer.
Many of this season’s series have sponsors or corporate partnerships.
While the rejuvenation of the center’s physical and technical operations is certainly ushering it into a new era, Thompson hopes the 20th season offerings will encourage new patronage.
“We are a lot of fun. Just come out and try something. Be open to it and have a good time. You don’t have to have pre-knowledge of it or be an expert. It is about experiencing the arts and having fun,” Thompson said.
The ASC is home to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, UAB’s Department of Music and Department of Theater and ArtPlay – an arts education center for the Birmingham community.
For more information on the center and the 20th anniversary season, visit alysstephens.org.
The season kicks off Sept. 23 with an indoor/outdoor aerial performance exhibition by Bandaloop.