By Keysha Drexel
While the Alys Stephens Center has hosted the performances of a multitude of Grammy-winning artists over the years, Charlie Perry said the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s performing arts center is more than just a place to catch a great show.
Perry and his wife Sheri are the honorary chairmen of the 2014 Viva Health Starlight Gala, which will include a performance by Grammy Award winners Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell. The June 8 fundraiser will benefit the Alys Stephens Center.
“People look at the Alys Stephens Center as a great place to go to see a concert, but what the Alys Stephens Center really is is a vehicle to bringing culture to our city and community,” Perry said.
The ACS opened in 1996 and houses four performance venues, including the 1,330-seat Jemison Concert Hall, the 350-seat proscenium-style Sirote Theatre, the 170-seat Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall and the Black-box Odess Theatre.
The ACS’s mission, Perry said, is to be a place where the entire community experiences and engages in the arts. The ASC is home to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, the UAB theater and music departments and ArtPlay, a new arts education center.
“So many studies show that students learn more and do better in school if they are regularly exposed to the arts,” Perry said. “And at the other end of the spectrum, being involved in the arts helps our senior citizens stay sharp.”
The ACS also provides free or low-cost arts education programs for children and adults through workshops, classes, master classes and school shows.
Perry, the owner of Highlands Associates Inc., is the president of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s board of directors. He and his wife are involved with several community organizations, including Central Alabama Boy Scouts and UAB’s Health Services Foundation and Comprehensive Care Center.
“I’ve been on the symphony board since the early 2000s when I made the push to really get involved with the cultural part of our community,” Perry said. “I’m also really involved with UAB, and when this opportunity (to be the honorary Starlight Gala chairman) came up, I couldn’t think of a reason to say no because it helps UAB and the Alys Stephens Center.”
In addition to supporting the arts in Birmingham, the ASC is important to the metro area’s economic development, Perry said.
“I think it’s critical for Birmingham to offer more than the typical entertainment venues normally associated with the South,” he said. “Yes, we have great football traditions here, but for economic development, you have to have venues that are going attract people from all over the world.”
And because UAB does attract students and professionals from all over the world, Perry said supporting cultural venues in Birmingham is more important than ever.
“With UAB, we have scientists looking to come here from every corner of the world, and to attract those brilliant minds, we have to show them that Birmingham is a place with a rich and diverse arts scene,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that make people want to move their families here and do business.”
Perry said it benefits all residents in the Birmingham metro area to establish the city as a cultural destination.
“I’m a huge booster of Birmingham. I work in Birmingham. I eat in Birmingham, and I find my entertainment in Birmingham,” he said. “People need to realize that ultimately, as Birmingham goes, so goes the suburbs.”
Perry said he’s excited about hearing the featured performers at this year’s Viva Health Starlight Gala.
“To have someone like Steve Martin coming to Birmingham is a big deal, and I think it really speaks to the quality of what the Alys Stephens Center offers us,” he said.
Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Brickell will perform songs from the new album “Love Has Come for You” at 8 p.m. June 8. The playful performance will showcase original material performed by Martin and Brickell along with the unique blend of bluegrass and comedy that Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers have been delighting audiences with at their sold-out, critically-acclaimed shows. The group won a Grammy in 2012 for Best Bluegrass Album with its “Nobody Knows You.”
The group kicked off its tour March 14 in California, and aside from a stop in Snowden, Miss., in August, the ASC show in Birmingham is the only show planned for the Deep South.
The group’s recent appearances include “Austin City Limits,” “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Today Show” and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, MerleFest and Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit.
Several ticket packages are still available for the 2014 Viva Health Starlight Gala, but the supporter ticket package is sold out. The contributor ticket package has limited availability and includes premium seating for the performance and an elegant reception prior to the performance for $125 per person. For more information on the contributor ticket packages, call 975-2787.
The pre-show reception will begin at 7 p.m. at the Alys Stephens Center, 1200 10th Ave. South.
A VIP dinner package is also available for this year’s gala. James Lewis, owner and chef at Vittoria in Lakeview, will prepare a locally-based, seasonal menu for the gala dinner at the UAB National Alumni Society House. For more information on the VIP dinner packages, call 934-4012.
For more information on the 2014 Viva Health Starlight Gala or the programs and upcoming performances at the ASC, visit www.alysstephens.org.