Innovative art center in Mizner Park would create nexus of art and technology

Innovative art center in Mizner Park would create nexus of art and technology

There is a new vision emerging for the arts in Boca Raton, and what that will look like has been compiled as refined sketches to drum up support for a new performing arts center in Mizner Park.

The idea for the center is one of innovation and science married with art. The colorful renderings that go along with it are representations of the creative thought that has gone into the concepts.

The Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation would complete the 30-year plan for Mizner Park, building the 110,000-square-foot project on the site of the amphitheater. The plan is to integrate technology and cultural design to create a future-focused attraction for the city and region.

Some of the inspiration comes from facilities that have been installed in Miami, including the Rubell Museum, Superblue and the New World Center. The notion moves the conversation from a basic performing arts center that encompasses the usual experience of in-person music and dance concerts to one that is attractive to younger audiences, including the use of leading-edge productions like digital art, LED projections and video walls.

The biggest advocate

Andrea Virgin is the brainchild behind the emergence of the notion of having a leading-edge performing arts center. Her background combines both art and science.

“I came from the performing arts world and I’m now a civil engineer working in commercial real estate,” she said. “I am using both of those two backgrounds for this project.”

Virgin grew up in Boca Raton. She left the area to dance professionally. Eventually, she returned to South Florida to continue her art. After she came back, she decided to get her civil engineering degree because she realized it was a good career to go into after dancing.

Once the 2008 recession happened, I decided to trade the pointe shoes for a hard hat, and I started working in commercial real estate,” she said. “I found ways to drive creativity in a field that’s generally very black and white in contrast to my artistic origins.”

About seven years ago, Virgin had a life-altering event when she lost her husband. She said she decided she should do something impactful because life is short. Virgin said that she joined the board at Boca Ballet Theatre, thinking that was a good first step.

“In my first board meeting with them, I suggested that, since we’ve been performing out of high schools for so many years, that we should have our own performing arts theater,” she said. “I suggested to them that I would be happy to take on that project because I know enough about both commercial real estate and about performing arts.”

Since Virgin started leading the initiative as the president, the board has grown to 12 members.

“There is such an obvious need for a center like this,” she said. “I naively never realized exactly what that would entail. We kept it simple at the start, with a simple concept of a single purpose center, like the Kravis and Broward centers.”

According to Virgin, the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation organization brought on some consultants about a year into the process. The group had experience working on infrastructure from all over the world. She said they wanted the planning group to take this opportunity to really think into the future to make a performing arts center for the next century.

“The conceptual plans in the renderings are really beautiful and exciting,” Virgin said. “They are also a starting point. They’re conceptual drawings that are meant to evoke a sense of quality, a sense of scale and a sense of flexibility to ignite people’s imagination.”

The project’s cost was conceptually estimated in early 2020 (pre-pandemic), but is currently undergoing an update due to the escalation in construction pricing as well as a furtherance of the program development and planning process.

Irvin Lippman, executive director at Boca Raton Museum of Art at Mizner Park, would be the future next door neighbor to the performing arts center. His enthusiasm for the project is as much a feeling that Boca deserves a venue like what is being proposed, as well as an acknowledgement that the museum he oversees will benefit from greater cultural options nearby.

“The beauty of this project is that the center would not only be an arts and culture center, but that it also would be an innovation center, which opens all sorts of possibilities,” he said. “Anything that draws more attention to Mizner Park is very positive. I’ve been in Boca Raton now for eight years and I’ve seen how the community has grown.”

Lippman points out that a new center would not just be for people in the city of Boca but also for people from around the region.

“One indicator about who would be the audience for the arts center is that only 48% of our museum membership live in Boca Raton,” he said. “The majority live outside the area, including a huge number in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and the surrounding area. This is becoming sort of an urban center, and a very walkable city. I think having an art center here will enhance it greatly.”

Lippman promotes the fact that the center makes sense as a neighbor to the museum, since it has been upgraded with refinements to their own facility recently.

“Not only can the center happen, but I believe it can happen in a magnificent way,” he said. “The new center will help further define Boca Raton, just as the museum defines this north part of Mizner Park. I also think that the center will support the city as an entertainment center. Having the arts center and the museum together, I think you could create something of a nexus of this conversation about the arts.”

A new type of arts center

Virgin said that this type of center is focused on the future of the arts and entertainment. Part of this approach is to draw in younger participants who might not attend a more traditional venue.

“Traditional performing arts centers are often only used for one purpose, but then you’re missing out on so much more activity that could happen,” she said. “It’s important to be thinking about the arts in a different way, because the expectations of audiences today and the needs of artists of tomorrow are very different.”

Virgin said a century ago, the only form of entertainment was live. She said that now traditional arts centers are competing against Netflix and Hulu.

“We need to be thinking about ways that are experiential and that use multimedia,” she said. “The new center will have to use those ways to attract audiences, because the traditional one for performing arts centers is shrinking. We still need to be able to have a place where traditional art forms thrive, but we also need to allow artists to think of whatever they’re looking to create in new and in different ways.”

Virgin described a scenario for how the productions would be future-focused.

“We would love to have digital exhibitions for the people to come in to enjoy, whether or not they’re there to buy a ticket, just so the ability for them to be immersed in art in ways that are technologically forward and publicly accessible,” she said. “We could allow for a traditional programming experience to happen in the main hall for people looking to get dressed up for the event, but we could project that outside for thousands of others, that hits at the point of accessibility and technology.”

Virgin explained how the center would be a place of both art and science innovation.

“The new center would be a place of research and development,” she said. “The art of tomorrow can be created through artists to create that kind of intersection of art and technology. We want to help them breed innovation and thinking about the art of the future.”

The center also aims to provide a space for K-12 opportunities such as access to performances, programs during and after school, workshops for all ages, artists/tech in residence, internship opportunities, lecture series on the art and ideas of tomorrow.

The next major step is the execution of the ground lease with the city of Boca Raton (for a total lease term of 94 years). The signing of this document, expected in late August, will provide the backstop needed to leverage major philanthropic support for the project.