The just-opened Patricia Reser Center for the Arts is a game-changer for the western suburbs, and Portland’s arts ecosystem as a whole.
Beaverton’s ISing choral group began in 2005 with a few passionate singers at Intel, and has since grown into an internationally touring choir of more than 80 members. They perform an eclectic repertoire, everything from gospel to movie themes to improvisational jazz, at venues as far-flung as choral festivals in Spain and chapels in France.
Despite their popularity with audiences around the world, ISing has faced the same barrier many performers in Beaverton have: a lack of performance space—particularly space that meets their financial, capacity, and acoustic needs.
But in April 2022, the group will sing within new walls: Beaverton’s long-awaited Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. The multi-million dollar home for artists in Beaverton opened on March 1, housing an art gallery, rehearsal space and 550-seat proscenium theater.
“Hillsboro has a performance center, but it’s a converted church. Sherwood has a performing center, but it’s really not a performance center, more of a community center” says Stephen Galván, the group’s director. But at the Reser, he adds, “the acoustics are phenomenal.”
The Reser is located at the Round, a mixed-use development in central Beaverton that sits right on the blue and red MAX lines, connecting it to Hillsboro, Portland, and Gresham. The space is also home to Beaverton City Hall, several restaurants, and a plant shop; an ever-growing food cart pod is nearby.
The new center has been in the works since 2018, when Patricia Reser, wife of the late Al Reser (of Reser’s Fine Foods), offered a $13 million pledge to build an arts center. A subsequent three-year capital campaign yielded $12 million, and the remaining $23 million is from bonds the city is repaying through a tax on hotels and motels.
Chris Ayzoukian, the Reser’s artistic director, notes that despite its size, the center won’t only host enormous acts who are able to fill a 550-seat space. By dimming the balcony, the capacity can slide down to 350; the gallery’s walls are mobile, and can be reconfigured based on exhibition size. “We came up with this scalable model,” says Ayzoukian, for nonprofits who can pay on a per-seat basis rather than a flat fee, which can be cost-prohibitive.
Elizabeth Shew, a 27-year-old dancer from Beaverton, says the Reser will be an important mechanism for reducing inequality in the arts. Shew began her ballet training at the Conestoga Recreation Center by Beaverton’s Southridge High School at the age of three. At five, she leveled up to community ballet, and by nine she was performing with the Oregon Ballet Theater in its annual production of the Nutcracker.
She eventually started commuting to a ballet school on the east side of Portland, which required a 45-minute commute, five days a week. She was lucky, Shew says, because her family was able to get her to dance classes, but she says a healthy arts ecosystem requires more than that. “If you don’t have local infrastructure and you don’t have local support, then being able to do this type of career is sort of reserved only for those who have a lot of privilege.”
The Reser’s grand opening spring season is globally minded. It includes a solo experimental theater work by Iranian playwright Naim, a New York flamenco company, a mariachi group, the Count Basie orchestra, and more. The first public concert, on March 8, will feature a vocal quintet from Zimbabwe called Nobuntu. But there’s plenty of space for locals as well: Portland dance company BodyVox plans to perform their show “Nineteen Twenty’′ from March 17-19, and local dance presenter White Bird will bring Versa-Style Dance Company, a hip-hop group from Los Angeles, to the Reser in April. The ISing choir is preparing a repertoire of South American composers that they will perform mid-spring before taking their show on tour to Italy.
Shew is encouraged by what’s to come: “An art center that’s a hub that you would go to as a child and throughout your childhood expands your worldview. Even if you’re not going to go and be an artist, you will be exposed to so many more things and types of people and ideas because that exists.”
That sums up Ayzoukian’s hope for the center, too. In his ideal world, “we are not only a place for the arts, but a gathering place for the community.”