Take a moment to imagine yourself sitting in the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. You find yourself seated in one of over 900 seats, surrounded by a crowd of concert attendees all patiently waiting for the opening act to begin. The post-modern European style opera house is filled with various members of the community, from the ground level orchestra seating to the upper level balcony. All eyes watch the Masterworks Choral Ensemble begin their performance of “Frostiana” by Randall Thompson. Later in the night, the Masterworks Choral joins the Olympia Symphony Orchestra , under the direction of Ian Edlund, as they perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Partners Ballet Northwest Sleeping Beauty
“The Center has been a valued partner in developing the Olympia Dance Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year,” says Ken Johnson. He and his wife Josie Johnson are the artistic directors of Ballet Northwest and Johansen Olympia Dance Center. Photo credit: Jerome Tso

The nerves of the musicians are high at this event, though the audience doesn’t see that part. Performing in a venue the size of the Washington Center is sure to unnerve many performers, but this is a special night. The year is 1985 and Masterworks Choral Ensemble and the Olympia Symphony Orchestra are performing for the Grand Opening Concert.

Masterworks Choral Ensemble and Olympia Symphony Orchestra are two of the many founding members of the Artistic Partners. The partnership between the Washington Center and their Artistic Partners has grown strong over the past three decades. Over the years, the partners have grown, as new organizations have become part of the Washington Center family.

Before the Washington Center opened, they hosted a number of planning and preparation meetings with the local artistic groups to prepare them to work in the facility. The groups were already experienced in performance, but some of them had rarely been in a facility the size and grandeur of the Washington Center. They knew that audience expectations would be much higher when attending events there. These meetings helped prepare the artistic partners to meet audience expectations. “More importantly, these trainings showed The Center’s commitment to fostering and promoting all the various local arts groups,” says Gary Witley artistic director for the Masterworks Choral Ensemble, “and this commitment continues to this day.”

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Partners Emerald City Music at The Center
The Washington Center serves as a venue for many artistic partners where relationships and collaborations form among the arts presenters in Olympia.
Photo courtesy: Emerald City Music

Masterworks Choral Ensemble is not the only organization that feels such a strong and lasting level of support from the Washington Center. Many artistic partners echo the same sentiment. “I think what makes the Washington Center so special is the staff and the value they place on their local Artistic Partners,” says Jennifer Hermann, executive director of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, “we feel supported, encouraged, and championed by The Center.”

Not only do artistic members feel special as part of the Washington Center family, but they also credit them as a component of their success in their artistic endeavors. Scott Schoengarth is the producer and director for Entertainment Explosion, a non-profit performance troupe dedicated to helping kids in need throughout Thurston and Mason Counties. He credits the Washington Center as having the wow factor that has helped his organization raise  $317,000 for kids in need. “There is a sense of importance, a level of expectation, a feeling in the audience that this is an exceptional show, if it is held at The Washington Center,” he states.

The mutually beneficial relationship between the Washington Center and its Artistic Partners includes a third winner, the surrounding community. They provide a solid foundation of support for the performance art community in our region. Whether it is music, dance, theatre or comedy, local arts continue to thrive in our region when there is a venue like the Washington Center to aspire to reach. Executive Director of the Washington Center Jill Barnes reminds us of their mission by saying, ”We support the artistic interests and visions of our Artistic Partners. It is a little known fact that our local Artistic Partners pick performance dates first, and we fill in with our national touring presenting season. We also underwrite the rental rates for our Artistic Partners to provide fair and equitable access to the facility.”

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Partners Olympia Junior Programs
Artistic Partner, Olympia Junior Programs, provides low cost programs for elementary students and their teachers. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center

The Washington Center would like to recognize a few of their many Artistic Partners and thank them for their years of partnership: Ballet Northwest, Debbie’s Dance ETC , Emerald City Music, Entertainment Explosion, The Evergreen State College, Johansen Olympia Dance Center, Masterworks Choral Ensemble, Olympia Chamber Orchestra, Olympia Downtown Alliance, Olympia Junior Programs, Olympia Music Teacher Association, Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Olympia Union Gospel Mission, Olympia Youth Chorus, Pizza Klatch, South Sound YMCA, SOGO, Studio One Dance Association,  South Puget Sound Community College ,Studio West Dance Academy, Sweet Adeline’s International, Thurston Community Media , Timberland Regional Library, Upwest Arts, YWCA of Olympia.

Some of these partners will have events in the upcoming season at the Washington Center downtown and some may have presentations at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, which is managed by the Washington Center, so be sure to check the events listing page on The Washington Center for the Performing Arts website to see a schedule and purchase tickets.

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