New, community-driven performing arts venue in Port Angeles has its grand opening
Secluded and scenic, Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula is home to a robust arts scene with festivals, community theaters, regional orchestras and up-and-coming bands. This rich arts culture inspired Port Angeles resident Donna Morris to set aside $9 million in her will for a world-class performing arts center in the harbor city of 20,000 people.
Last weekend, nine years after her death, Morris’ dream was realized with the grand opening of the Field Arts & Events Hall, a 41,000-square-foot venue, complete with a 500-seat theater, conference space, fine art gallery, coffee bar and more. The three-day grand opening celebration included performances from dance troupe BANDALOOP, jazz groupRanky Tanky, and renowned jazz vocalist Diane Schuur, who kicked off her 70th birthday tour at Field Hall.
“We dubbed the grand opening ‘From Washington to the World,’ and Diane Schuur was born in Tacoma. She's an exceptional, Grammy Award-winning artist who’s recorded with some of the best, from B.B. King to Count Basie to many others. So we started with a Washingtonian that's really spread through the world,” said Steve Raider-Ginsburg, executive director of Field Hall. Raider-Ginsburg hopes that the hall also becomes a timeless regional export.
It’s been a long journey to this grand opening. Following Morris’ death in 2014, the money for the hall was held by Peninsula College Foundation until the Port Angeles Waterfront Center was created to oversee this project.
From there, one of the board members of the Waterfront Center, Dorothy Field, purchased the hall’s striking lot, the last parcel of developable waterfront in the city. Field then donated this lot to the Waterfront Center to be developed as a cultural campus that will include the Field Hall, a Marine Discovery Center and Elwha Klallam Tribe Cultural Center, both yet to be built.
Construction on Field Hall started in 2019, but the pandemic brought construction to a halt in March 2021. Raider-Ginsburg, who came aboard to start artistic and operations planning in August 2021, said the organization solely focused on fundraising during the pause. Along with the donations from Morris and Field, the nonprofit is supported by corporate and individual donors.
In August 2022, construction resumed and in June, Field Hall, which offers a 180-degree view of the Olympic Mountains, hosted a soft opening. Along with a few private parties, the hall hosted a performance from the Brubeck Brothers Quartet and “Community Days,” a free, festival-style weekend showcasing local artists.
“Donna was always impressed with local talent and felt that this area needed a world class performing arts center,” Raider-Ginsburg said. “That's what we have done. We built Field Hall to meet the natural grandeur of our area, and to support Port Angeles artists and artists throughout the peninsula into the future."
The community already feels the positive impact of the hall’s opening. According to Karen Twight, a Port Angeles resident and volunteer at Field Hall, there’s a real “buzz of excitement” among residents.
“They watched this building start five years ago, they broke ground...and then COVID hit and everything went quiet,” Twight said. “So this is almost like an awakening for the town. They’re in awe of it, and they’re proud of it.”
Twight first began volunteering with Field Hall last year by teaching drama with Peninsula Performs, an educational program that brings artists into classrooms in the Port Angeles School District. Through such community outreach and the hall’s full performance calendar, Twight believes this space will become a major hub for the area. In particular, she thinks that the hall will give Olympic National Park visitors a big reason to come out at night to patronize local businesses.
“They’ll say ‘Hey, there's a show on and hey, let's go for dinner,’” Twight said. “I'm hoping that economic development will just really elevate Port Angeles in general, and grow that sense of pride in our community.”