The evening sky lights up with the orange glow of fire and neon hula-hoops as dancers and performers fill the street and writhe to the heavy percussion of Latin music. This may be a typical scene on a hot night on Miami Beach, but not one you would expect of an increasingly popular cultural venue that brings in nationally-recognized artists. Delray Beach is establishing itself as a cultural center with the not-so-ordinary Arts Garage.
Most downtown areas are showing signs of recovery and trying to reinvent, re-establish or rediscover its identity. Part of the cult and culture of the area, the Arts Garage originally started as one of Delray’s Community Redevelopment Agency’s initiatives. Alyona Ushe, executive director of Arts Garage, wanted to bring a new level of classic and contemporary culture to Downtown Delray.
The plan was to occupy a provisional location as a proving ground before moving far away from the downtown area to its permanent 15,000-square-foot warehouse. When the temporary location was up for reassignment in April there was a strong community outcry against removing the already beloved neighbor from their home—thus Arts Garage was allowed to keep its cozy residence. “I fell in love with this location,” Alyona says. “There is something magical about this place.”
The Arts Garage has already proven itself to be far more than your typical arts venue. It captures that jazz club scene with intimate seating around tables instead of rows upon rows of chairs, and a “bring-your-own-bottle” policy invites people to be comfortable. People often bring anything from a couple of import beers, a bottle of wine or even go as far as ordering from a local restaurant and having a gourmet meal.
“The comfortable and casual setting gives [performers and exhibitions] a raw delivery system that maximizes the use of the audience’s imagination,” Louis Tyrrell, artistic director of the Arts Garage says. The whole affair is intimate as you sit stage side to listen to the likes of the Joey Gilmore Band and their smooth blues groove – or even more amazing vocalists like Joan Cartwright get pulled from the audience to sing “Treat Me Right and You Don’t Have To Marry Me.”
Their theatre venue is ever-expanding with an academy and pre-professional shows like Fame, or their unique take on a live radio show as they “broadcast” Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard. The main room is transformed into a dance hall for swing and master-class instrumentalists. And you can’t forget the stream of fantastic musicians and artists they bring not only to perform, but to lead a class in a series they call “Meet the Masters,” sharing techniques in their particular genre.
But, the real strength of Arts Garage is the staff behind every production, exhibit and event; and the passion they tackle each project with. Tyrrell embodies the very essence of passion for the arts. He was the producing director and one of the driving forces behind the iconic Florida Stage; and his eyes light up with excitement as he talks about future plans for the Arts Garage.
“A theatrical production should be driven by text and performance. What we will be doing, besides performing the iconic classics, is producing the new works of today, otherwise we can’t discover the classics of the future,” says Tyrrell. You can see how gratified he and all the staff are with helping breathe life into a new work.
As of last December, the Delray Beach City Commission voted to allow for Arts Garage to purchase the 10,000-square-foot building for $2.5 million (due by March 2015). The staff and patrons of Arts Garage couldn’t be happier in taking another step in permanently securing the location. Alyona says, “We’re ready to take it to the next level.” Arts Garage is here to stay.