History of Live Arts
Live Arts began as the dream of a small group of passionate people and has grown into a major cultural force in our region. Dreaming is still at the heart of all we do. We are committed to being a product of this unique community as well as a process for creating community. We make art that blurs the lines between genres, drawing freely from dance, music, visual arts, and other forms. We draw from an array of international influences creating extraordinary work with ordinary people. We are committed to outreach, education and new works as tools for creating both art and community. We strive for an arts organization that is a holistic structure with all areas drawing strength and support from all others. We are creating a theater and a supporting structure that are like no other in the world.
Live Arts started in 1989 with a small group of dedicated artists and benefactors who sought a home for live performance in the heart of downtown Charlottesville, Virginia and found it in developer Gabe Silverman’s Old Michie Building on Market Street. For a detailed rememberance of the birth of Live Arts, read this account from founder Michael Parent.
Our first production in that 135 seat theater space was of Sartre’s No Exit in September of 1990. Acid house dance parties provided an early approach to artistically motivated, experience-based events as fund raising tool. This form found fuller expression in the legendary annual “9 Lives” benefit, a combination of cabaret and promenade theater forms with outrageous visual design excess and broad community support.
A popular series of coffeehouses under the direction of Fran Smith, the founding Artistic Director, provided a stage for local musicians, actors and writers and were a popular regular feature of the first years. John Gibson began work at Live Arts as a volunteer in January of 1992 and became the first full-time employee in April of 1993. As the organization grew in scale and ambition, a growing professionalism led to the addition of full-time Development and Technical Director positions.
The first in a series of distinctive musical theater productions was The Fantasticks in 1992 under the direction of John Owen. Our Live Arts Theater Training Ensemble (LATTE) was begun in 1997 under the direction of Lydia Horan and guidance of Kay Leigh Ferguson and provides arts education for all ages and unique performance opportunities for young people, a commitment that continues under the current director, Bree Luck. That same year saw the creation of a second, smaller (70 seats) performance space – Live Arts B or “LA.B”. An expanded commitment to new works began in 1999 and the outreach program has provided touring shows, pay-what-you-can performances, classes workshops and many other ways to touch lives regardless of age, income or ability to pay.
A major institutional self-study and long range planning process also began in 1999 and resulted in many structural changes, including a powerfully simple new mission statement: “Forging Theater and Community”. Another enormous step was taken with the successful drive toward a new home for our theater. This campaign, in collaboration with Second Street Gallery and Lighthouse, and led by Thane Kerner, resulted in our spectacular facility designed by local architects Bushman Dreyfus.
Since moving to Water Street, Live Arts has grown and thrived. Executive Director Matt Joslyn and Artistic Director Julie Hamberg lead a dedicated staff in helping facilitate and nurture theater and performing arts in Downtown Charlottesville. The astonishing growth in size, artistic maturity and ambition, and organizational vision are all testaments to the unique community that is our home. An annual audience of 20,000, critical acclaim, and a core, recurring volunteer base of over 500 speak to the rich community of artists, patrons and passions from which we draw. We are proud to be a community theater like no other, reinventing that traditional form and reflecting a community that is also like no other.