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Consternation, collaboration and coexistence for Parker and Lone Tree art centers

PACE, Lone Tree Arts Center find their niches in south metro region

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In 2011, there was concern that opening two performing arts centers within eight miles — and two months — of each other would be too much of a good thing. But as the PACE Center and the Lone Tree Arts Center each enter their seventh seasons of performances and community programs, both venues have forged their own path, while helping each other along the way.

“When the two centers opened … there was a lot of consternation,” said Parker Arts Cultural Director Elaine Mariner.

Lisa Rigsby Peterson, executive director at the Lone Tree Arts Center, said the concern was justified.

“I think it was reasonable to be worried because both communities invested large amounts of money into these projects,” she said. “But just out of the gate we distinguished ourselves.”

Both centers sought local talent and production companies at the outset, but the Arts Center, with its proximity to the I-25 corridor, soon began looking for national theater productions while PACE sought out community theater and the occasional big-name singer or comedian.

“If you want to see a classic, Broadway play you'll go (to Lone Tree) but if you love the old favorites, you're going to come here and see 'South Pacific,'” Mariner said.

Initially, staffs at both centers were in constant contact to avoid booking similar acts at the same time. Now they each schedule productions through the Rocky Mountain Arts Consortium, a group comprising professional theaters from Montana, Wyoming, Utah and other regions in Colorado. The association allows both venues to book popular acts as they travel through the region while avoiding oversaturating the market.

Maintaining independent talent is one side of the collaborative coin; the other is sharing staff behind the scenes. Some ushers volunteer at both venues, and lighting and audio crew members shift from one stage to the other as needed, providing an economic foothold for local industry employees.

“It's great for the art community,” Rigsby Peterson said. “To have two arts centers that have work for artistic professionals in the south metro area, that's huge.”

Mariner and Rigsby Peterson both tout their attention to children's programs, with PACE featuring classrooms full of unique workshops and camps and the Lone Tree Arts Center offering matinee performances geared especially for toddlers, schoolchildren and children with special needs.

Both directors also take pride in their centers' individuality, attracting different types of talent while serving audiences largely from the same area. Mariner said the centers keep each other on their toes, while Rigsby Peterson added that the combination gives cultural curators in Denver cause to look over their shoulders.

“Together we are sometimes giving downtown a run for their money,” Rigsby Peterson said.

Mariner agreed, adding that now the question isn't whether there's room for two performing centers, it's whether the metro area is big enough for three.

“I'd say Douglas County is lucky to have two really high-quality performing arts centers so close to home, and I think the rest of the metro area agrees.”

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