On a recent tour of the soon-to-be-completed Ent Center for the Arts, it seemed as if the musicians, thespians, dancers, students and faculty might be at the ready, waiting in another wing.
Their audience would include some workers in hard hats, and they would have to navigate the ladders, dropcloths and machinery scattered throughout the grand structure. But the building's bones are up, and they're well dressed: Walls and windows are installed, floors carpeted, a panini machine stands ready to serve concessions and some artwork already is displayed.
The $70 million center will house the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs - plus five venues, an art gallery and more all primed to greet those who will play, study and enjoy the arts.
The money came from a few sources. UCCS has a $12.6 million, 15-year marketing and operating agreement with Ent Federal Credit Union. The Colorado Legislature approved $27.6 million for the project. CU's Office of the President pledged $10 million, and at least $10 million has been provided by private donors.
"We only have 350 punch-list items left," said project manager Brad Johnson. "We're kind of wrapping up. We get our certificate of occupancy next week."
After the punch lists are emptied, the Ent Center is set to open in January.
The design process for the 92,000-square-foot performing and visual arts complex started in 2013, but the center of arts and music venues has been discussed since 2001, Johnson said.
Made to stand out
The center looks intentionally different from existing architecture on the UCCS campus.
"Part of it is that the campus really wants to create a gateway," said Chris Wineman, principal of Semple Brown architects of Denver, which designed the Ent Center. "It's a highly visible marker because this is going to be an area of growth for UCCS, and because the building is going to serve the public and the students. They didn't feel it had to have the same brick as buildings on campus. It could be a departure."
The building's cantilevered curves took some cues from nearby Pulpit Rock and from clouds admired by Gary Reynolds, UCCS associate vice chancellor for campus planning and facilities management, Wineman said.
Reynolds is a ski instructor at Keystone Resort, where he noticed a meteorological phenomenon that spoke to him: standing lenticular clouds. The wave-shaped clouds form when air moves over mountains, cooling enough for condensation.
The resulting design is "very Colorado and very modern," Reynolds said. "We find that balance between the two."The design team has tried to create a nice, refined elegant experience. We talk about the 'seat to seat experience' from your car seat to the seats in the venues. That journey will be an enjoyable one. We're really hoping there will be a 'wow' factor."
You can't miss the building as you drive along Nevada Avenue near Interstate 25. The center is at 5225 N. Nevada Ave.
"The client wasn't shy about wanting the building to stand out," Wineman said. "They said, 'We want people to know where to find it. Let's stretch the boundaries.' We don't get to build on sites like that very often."
Even the structure's color is mercurial, depending on the sky.
"I like the way the metal skin can change character from day to night and reflect it back from day to night," Wineman said.
The indoor flow also follows the curling form. Each department - from theaters to classrooms, studios and offices to the UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art - is laid out to be interactive.
"It's not just theater people over here in one spot," Wineman said. "The theaters and student work and the audiences are flowing from one end to the other. There's a sense not of right angles, but of curves."
State of the art
Ent Center Director Aisha Ahmad-Post will program the performing arts series, which begins soon after the building opens in January. Her focus will be the 774-seat Shockley-Zalabak Theater, named for UCCS Chancellor Emerita Pam Shockley-Zalabak, and the Chapman Foundation's Recital Hall.
Ahmad-Post's eyes lit up as she guided a small group through the main theater and recital hall.
"The most exciting thing is, there's so much opportunity to bring in world-class talent to this space," she said. "When you go to the Shockley-Zalabak theater, it's going to be best in class."
The orchestra shell can be compressed into smaller spaces: 250 seats, 500 seats.
"Architecturally, our goal with the shell was that you feel like you're in the same room as the musicians. From a visual and acoustical sense, you are sharing the same space," Wineman said.
"The stage is white oak sprung floor," said Ahmed-Post, quickly jumping up and down on the stage to demonstrate the floor's give - something dancers will appreciate. "And the soft goods came in recently."
She gazed upward, over the enormous, lush, dark red curtains flanking the performance space.
Said Daisy McGowan, director of the UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art, "A lot of the thought for all of these spaces was including students as part of the creative process."
Students will learn to operate sound boards, adjust lights atop catwalks high above the stage, operate the mechanized stage curtains, and do all that is needed behind and in front of the scenes.
"Every space in this building is a learning space," McGowan said.
The Chapman Recital Hall seats 242 and is planned mostly for chamber music recitals, Ahmad-Post said.
"It's a completely self-contained hall. This room and the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater can be very specialized, while the Shockley-Zalabak Theater can be more multifaceted," she said.
Wineman said the space options give Ahmad-Post a chance to put performances where they best belong.
"The building is going to be an instrument where these people get to play," he said.
The Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater is home to TheatreWorks production company, currently elsewhere on the campus. The new version, like the old, is a black box theater that can be configured in many ways and got a "massive technological upgrade," McGowan said.
Thanks to Murray Ross, the late founder and artistic director of Theatreworks, the three-story space has a giant trap that rises from the floor.
"Murray fought for this trap and felt very strongly about it, what it would mean for the production," McGowan said.
Candidates to head TheatreWorks now are being interviewed, and the selection should be made soon, she said.
The GOCA 1420 gallery, now in University Hall, has a new home on the Ent Center's first floor.
The 2,500-square-foot gallery has stark-white walls now, but its first exhibit soon will open to the public, featuring the work of Manitou Springs artist Floyd Tunson.
"There are so many options here. The ceiling can support 1,000 pounds!" McGowan said. "I have 100 feet of wall to work with."
A welcome space
Already hanging from the ceiling in the two-story lobby is a specially designed piece of artwork that looks as if it was created to be there.
"A call went out to artists. We had 300 submissions. We specifically had to think about work that would integrate into the building," McGowan said. "And we worked hard not to block these beautiful views."
Outside the lobby is a terraced garden where a tent can be set up for outdoor events and sculptures will be installed.
On the second floor are offices, classrooms, the Osborne black box theater, green rooms, a costume sewing room, and a dance studio with an inspiring view of Pikes Peak on one side and Pulpit Rock on another.
The facility also created opportunities to expand some of the university's programs, McGowan said.
"The upgrades that are happening for a lot of these programs are fantastic," she said. "Students here already get so much hands-on attention, and with this building they will have even more opportunities."
These options extend to the Pikes Peak region's arts and music audiences. For instance, The Chamber Orchestra of the Springs will perform in the center, including its "Music of the Spheres" concert Jan. 20-21. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic will bring some performances, too, including all of its Vanguard Performances, starting with "Bernstein Serenade" on Feb. 17-18.
"The things people will appreciate most are the views. Not just the big ones like the one from the lobby, but the views from the dance studio, stage door, stairwell," Wineman said. "I think we worked hard to connect the building to the landscape. There are things that people will discover over time as they come and explore. We wanted to give them every reason to want to find places they've never seen before."