Hill Consensus Group Co-Convener Carl Redwood Jr. said seeing the Hill House Association’s Kaufmann Auditorium restored reflects the revival of the Hill District.
“Did you know there are 1,000 people on the waiting list for new housing in the Hill? This is big,” Redwood said. “Generations of people participated in music and art programming here. Now new generations will continue the legacy of this building and the Hill as a cultural center.”
Redwood was among the community partners at a March 15 press conference announcing not only the completion of the building’s $6 million restoration, but also a new partnership between the Hill House and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater that will bring arts performances to the auditorium and the Hill District.
The first such performance will be a benefit concert by John Legend March 18.
“There is room for more than one cultural center in this city,” said Kelly Strayhorn Executive Director Janera Solomon. “Being able to walk to the theater on a summer night, or to a musical performance is something you can’t put a price on.”
Beginning in May, the theater will begin putting on music, art and performance shows suited to a more intimate setting than their 350-seat theater in East Liberty.
“There are so many artists in the city we can’t feature them all, and this space is better for solo artists, poetry and art installations,” she said. “And with its kitchen, we are looking at doing traditional and ethnic food demonstrations with chefs and authors.”
Solomon said the official calendar for the inaugural Season of the Arts will be finalized in a few weeks, but will include Sunday Jazz jams and probably some performances in the outdoor amphitheater.
Along with the amphitheater, the exterior of the Kaufmann Center now boasts a rebuilt grand stairway to the front entrance on Centre Avenue and a new side façade of colored panels and handicapped entrance announcing the Elsie Hillman Auditorium at the Kaufmann Center.
The auditorium itself is much brighter. A shallower, narrower stage paneled in the same white pine as the main floor replaces the dark four-foot theatrical stage. The walls feature white paint and brown acoustical panels, which also dot the ceiling. The balcony’s 200 seats have all been refinished and the new lighting and sound systems are managed by a new state-of-the–art control room.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the renovation and the creative partnership are an indicator of brighter days ahead for the Hill.
“This is a tremendous physical space, but it’s also about the programming and the tremendous opportunity for the Hill,” he said. “This says the Hill is alive and well and we are committed to it. This building says the Hill is back.”
County Executive Dan Onorato said though he loves the building upgrades, he loves what it stood for more.
“Having a resource like this in a city neighborhood that gives residents, especially young people, access to the arts is priceless,” he said.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle called the building “catalytic.”
“This is a special day. It is the beginning of telling a story of renaissance,” he said. “It’s the story of what can happen when people work together.”
Hill House President and CEO Victor Roque thanked everyone who helped bring the project to fruition.
“This is an exciting day because the completion of this building reestablishes the Hill District as a cultural center, a place to come to hear music, hear jazz and celebrate a neighborhood,” he said.