VPAC curtain rises at grand opening gala

Liana Hofer

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Cal State Northridge singers wrap up the performance at the gala opening of the Valley Performing Arts Center. Courtesy of CSUN / Howard Pasamanick

The opening gala of the Valley Performing Arts Center ushered in a new cultural era for the San Fernando Valley, and ended a long period of waiting and anticipation for the Valley.

For CSUN students who have waited two years for the completion of the facility, it marked the end of loud and unsightly construction equipment.

For Valley residents who have long hungered for a local taste of the arts, it was an answer to years of waiting for more culture in the area.

For CSUN President, Dr. Jolene Koester, it was the culmination of 10 years of planning to realize her grand ambition for a performing arts building on campus.

“(The VPAC) is a testament to the vision, persistence and the leadership of President Koester and the board,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “When they first talked about raising $125 million, a lot of people wondered if it was possible and they’ve shown through sheer determination and hard work that we’re able to be here today.”

Within the walls of the 1,700-seat architectural work-of-art, public figures, celebrities and financial donors gathered for the event, which included an evening of entertainment accompanied by food and drinks galore.

Patrons were able to wander the halls of the building, explore the small gift shop, visit the multiple open bars, and enjoy the view from the multi-level windows provided by 30,000 square feet of glass.

Celebrities such as Benjamin Bratt, Cheech Marin and Arturo Sandoval joined more than 20 artists who performed ballet, opera, jazz and comedy on the impressive main stage.

Vance Peterson, vice president for University Advancement, echoed the sentiments of many who felt Northridge finally has some much-needed culture.

“Tonight is really a coming of age for the Valley,” Peterson said.  “We feel this facility is going to lift the entire valley, in terms of the quality of life.”

According to Peterson, who heads VPAC fundraising, the gala was expected to raise $1 million for the new building. Nearly $16 million is still needed, which he claims can be covered in “one or two major naming gifts.” The funding for the building was split between $75 million from public sources and $50 million from private, he said.

Peterson said there were many first-time donors to this project, including corporate sponsors and foundations.

“It’s really wonderful to see that kind of response to this project,” Peterson said. “It’s that kind of generosity that is so incredible, and tonight we’re experiencing the results of that generosity.”

Among the many private donors were Clyde and Nancy Porter, who donated $2.5 million to go to the Founders’ Room, which will bear their names. According to Nancy, they had been a part of the planning of the building since its conception.

“My husband was in on this when it was just a gleam in Jolene Koester’s eye,” Nancy said.  “He and I were in this since the very beginning, and it has been an exciting process all the way along.”

For Nancy, Saturday was a bittersweet night. She is finally able to see the project that her husband had been instrumental in, but she will have to see it without him, because he passed away a number of years ago.

“I’m sorry my husband is not here to experience this,” Nancy said. “I’m hoping it would please him.”

Only time will tell, but it may very well be that this new gem of the Valley will be President Koester and CSUN’s crowning legacy.