20 Years of the Performing Arts at the Newman Center
The Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts has been a prominent part of the Denver performing arts community since its founding back in 2003. Celebrating 20 years of music, arts, and community, we look back on memorable moments along the way, including a peek into what the future brings.
The $70 million Newman Center made its official debut on Friday, April 18, 2003 with a sold-out gala featuring mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horn and bass Hao Jiang Tian. Distinguished guests included former DU Chancellor Dan Ritchie, Judi and Bob Newman, Sharon Magness, Cleo Parker Robinson and Joy Burns. The Villager newspaper called the gala opening “the most spectacular nonprofit event in metro Denver’s recent history” while the Rocky Mountain News commented on the “fine acoustics, along with a quality virtually unknown in Denver concert halls – intimacy.” The Denver Post described the Newman Center “as a gem,” helping the “city attract talent that simply never came here before.”
Twenty years following the debut of the Newman Center, the accolades keep coming. Upon sharing the most promising fall shows of 2022, Ray Mark Rinaldi of the Denver Post had the following to say: “Hard to believe the Newman Center for the Performing Arts has been around for 20 years now. It’s remarkable considering how crucial it has become to the city’s fine arts scene. No local venue has shown half the commitment to bringing local crowds such a high level of international names in the fields of dance and classical music.”
In addition to being the proud home of the Lamont School of Music and DU’s Theatre Department, the Newman Center has been home to dozens of community performing arts organizations such as Friends of Chamber Music and Denver Brass who have been with the venue since the very beginning. To say the Newman Center filled a gap in the community is an understatement. During the covid-19 affected season of 2021-2022 alone, the Newman Center hosted 89 performances by performing arts organizations from throughout the Denver metro area.
Over the years, the Newman Center has hosted a dizzying array of talent, often through the curated Newman Center Presents series which has been lauded for its adventurous and discerning programming. In 2010, Westword gave the Newman Center a “Best Unsung Arts Series” award, while the venue has received national attention for its dance programming. A small sampling of artists who have performed at the Newman Center includes Lindsey Buckingham (2011-2012), John Legend (2008-2009), Chick Corea with Bela Fleck (2013-2014), and Idina Menzel (2008-2009). Over the past two seasons alone, sold-out performances by Paul Taylor Dance Company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Sam Bush have brightened the June Swarner Gates Concert Hall. The Newman Center welcomes over 130,000 people annually for nearly 500 presentations.
As we look at the past twenty years, it’s clear that the Newman Center for the Performing Arts wouldn’t exist without the ongoing support of patrons and donors. From the very beginning, no shortcuts were made in bringing the community a first-class performing arts venue. Acoustician Edward McCue with Kirkegaard Associates was brought in to make sure the performance spaces possessed national-level acoustics. Details such as leaving the plaster walls unpainted, so as not to prevent the reflection of sound, were incorporated into the thoughtful planning of the building. In the Frederic C. Hamilton Family Recital Hall, the 3,000 pipe organ was positioned only 85 feet from the furthest seat, making the space ideal for acoustic performances. The love and attention to detail that went into the building from the very first days of planning has paid off in so many ways. The continued financial support of the community through donations and the purchase of tickets to performances remains crucial to the future of the venue.
As we look forward, the Newman Center’s mission of uplifting Denver audiences and artists by creating regional and cultural connections remains key. This includes bringing in new audiences and performances that reflect our growing and diverse communities. Fortunately, the Newman Center’s vision of serving as a cultural anchor for a thriving and dynamic 21st century Denver has never looked brighter. The robust educational initiatives of the Newman Center include a summer day camp (first-time!) in June 2023 that focuses on the creation of original music, as well as the culmination in May 2023 of the semester-long world music program called Musical Explorers that works with 2nd graders throughout Denver Public Schools (DPS). It is the Newman Center’s goal to provide this education program to every single second grader in DPS (nearly 8,000 students) by 2026.
For those excited to see what programming is set to come in 2023-2024, be sure to mark your calendars for May 1, when the Newman Center reveals its “Presents” series. Twenty years and counting, the Newman Center continues to broaden its horizons, bringing in dynamic shows and diverse talents. We’re proud of where we started and how far we have come. There is more work to be done, and rest assured, we’re enjoying the process and collaboration with many voices in our community to make the Newman Center your home for the performing arts.
Here’s to the next 20!