What's up with the Beck Center?

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 08/28/2006 - 23:32.


I went to the Beck Center for the first time for the Masumi Hayashi memorial. I was interested to see the place, as it has sufaced in controversy as the Beck Chairman of the Board wants to move it to Crocker Park, and the media and arts powers that be agree. What I found was a very expensive, expansive, high quality arts facility, as ugly as sin, on the skin, and poorly managed in obvious ways, but far from beyond redemption. That the regional arts leadership is ready to demolish this solid facility is beyond belief and shows how disposable our leadership finds our core and inner-ring community.

The Beck Center has some beautiful inner-space. I love the end-up wood floor throughout the lobby and parts of the main gallery, which is quite unique and reminds me of Hessler Court. Masumi's art really popped out in the large gallery space, where it was featured, and the theater looks quite effective... the public areas are all fine, and there is a lovely inner courtyard that should be a zen garden.

But the exterior presence and upkeep are a disgrace, from the dark, wretched Stalinist design and late '70s 1'x'1' wood framing over the windows (with trashy cut-outs for ad hoc window air conditioners), to the empty storefronts, peeling paint on the featured sculpture in the front yard, the fact neither of the front yard sculptures have attributions (I believe the abused sculpture may be a John Pearson), and the fact the lovely inner garden was locked to Masumi celebrants. Further, as is typical in NEO, their website is sub-optimal. Yet that portal hints at a huge and valuable range of affiliations, programs and outcomes within the Beck, worth exploring. After cruising the site, I learned they have many early childhood and youth programs perhaps worth bringing my kids up Detroit for, as that is lacking elsewhere in NEO. Perhaps they even have some adult education programs I may enjoy.

They also seem to offer an interesting range of theatrical productions.  Best of all, they are in vibrant Lakewood, on public transit-served Detroit Avenue, so near to other core assets and in a walkable community I always enjoy, so I can feel good about making a trip to the Beck neighborhood at any time. This is certainly the opposite of how the case would be if the Beck moved to Crocker Park, which offers nothing but a mall.

What I conclude is this is a fine facility offering great value to this community - Lakewood and NEO. But the board members that seek to move the Beck to Crocker Park don't have the sense to walk through the front door and realize they neglect the art they just passed in their front yard, and the facade, and the storefronts that all are core to their organization's presence in the community and survival. And, their management doesn't have the competence to see these same defects and find solutions. Based on what the PD wrote of the proposed Beck move to Crocker Park it seems they are on an all too familiar NEO path of demolition by neglect and can only think silver bullet, rather than pursuing continuous improvement. The Beck clearly can't continue to exist as is so needs to do something - perhaps they just need to shake-up the board and management.

How I know I can help is to learn more - I'm ging to check out classes for myself and kids and suggest if anyone in Lakewood and NEO care to help the local arts they should step up and do the same, now. Let's use the good energy of the Masumi Hayahsi retrospective there to nurture a new energy of caring about the arts in this region, rooted in this important facility in the important Lakewood community of NEO.

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