Forget all the clichés you’ve heard about small towns as cultural backwaters. Danville is a fountain overflowing with the arts‚ thanks to the presence of one of the premier performance venues in the state.
Norton Center Arts
The Norton Center for the Arts on the Centre College campus offers Danville and its neighbors the unparalleled opportunity to sample the best of Broadway‚ dance‚ pop and the classics. Performers have included violinist Itzhak Perlman‚ dancers Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov‚ and pop and country stars Dionne Warwick and Willie Nelson. The venue has show-cased the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and productions of Camelot and Annie as well.
“The Norton Center is a very important factor in the quality of life in our community‚” says music historian George Foreman‚ managing director of the Norton Center.
“We’re certainly unique for a community of this size. I don’t know of many other places that have a performing arts center of this caliber.”
The Louisville Courier-Journal has called the city a “powerhouse palace of culture.”
Much of that accolade can be attributed to the vision 30 years ago of trustee Chauncey Newlin‚ a New York City lawyer with connections to prominent arts groups in the East.
“Originally we thought we needed an auditorium to house the college’s community functions‚” Foreman explains. “But Mr. Newlin challenged us to think in grander terms. He understood the arts‚ and he was also a very good fund-raiser.”
The resulting 85‚000-square-foot complex‚ opened in 1973‚ houses several performance spaces‚ including Newlin Hall‚ a 1‚500-seat concert hall‚ and Weisiger Theatre‚ a 360-seat theater-in-the-round. Other amenities include classroom spaces‚ studios‚ faculty offices and the Grand Foyer‚ an artistic exhibition space.
The center was designed under the architectural direction of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
“The acoustics are absolutely phenomenal‚” Foreman says.
As managing director‚ Foreman oversees the center’s artistic lineup. The eclectic palette of performances ranges from ever-popular Broadway show tunes to the more cultivated offerings of the Berlin Chamber Orchestra and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
“Most people are fairly middle-of-the-road in their tastes‚” Foreman explains. “I don’t think we’d be successful if we brought in only classical or only country or only rock. We’ve had the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra and then moved on to Camelot and The Barber of Seville. I don’t think in terms of ‘ challenging’ people. I prefer to think about it as raising their educational level – a way of giving our audience a chance to have new doors open to them.”