By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
Nestled too inconspicuously among the bedroom communities of west Broward is a gem of a performing arts center. If you’re not aware of it, you’re not alone. Bailey Hall recently had a major facelift, but its image could still use a makeover.
It starts with the discreet sign on the Davie Road entrance. After almost passing it by one evening, I found a space in the Broward College central campus lot. As I walked toward the theater, a car pulled alongside and its driver asked if I knew where Bailey Hall was. It was no more than 50 feet in front of us.
And yet, after taking my spacious seat in the modern theater, I was stunned by perhaps the most dynamic instrumental musician I’ve seen in a lifetime of concert-going. Pianist Hiromi’s eclectic maelstrom of a performance was resonant of the hall itself – a world-class act, whether you’ve heard of it or not.
The wizard behind the curtain is Dr. Daniel Barnard, associate dean of cultural affairs and Bailey Hall’s director. Having arrived in May of last year, he’s raring to kick off his first full “Bailey Hall Presents” series this month, also the first to offer season subscriptions. Its diverse, multicultural lineup ranges from the U.S. Marine Band to Latin jazz songstress Elaine Elias, from a NASA engineer’s red-planet presentation to Nufonia Must Fall, a cutting-edge puppetry extravaganza that Barnard calls “the coolest, hippest thing on the program.”
“The shows must be excellent, hip, smart, engaging, authentic,” says Barnard, who won the ASCAP/CMA Award for Adventurous Programming in 2005 while at Penn State. “What distinguishes us from our colleagues, God bless them, is that we program art first and secondarily we think about how we’re gonna make the budget work. It’s a seduction. It has to be substantive enough that it’s worth people coming to, but it has to be sexy enough that they’ll actually come.
“There was about 10 years where they did not really do anything here other than internal and rental events. It’s almost like a start-up. My last job was a brand-new theater at the University of Texas and we had to develop an audience from zero. Here it’s almost like we’re developing an audience from a negative number because not only wasn’t there anything happening but things they did gave people a negative experience. That’s worse than a startup.”
Actually, the challenge of elevating the profile is shared by the college in general.
“Part of the master plan and the brand of the college is to get out of that Broward Community College stigma,” says Don Cook, executive director of marketing and strategic communications. “It’s really about changing that mentality. We’ve come a long way from Broward Community College.”
And Bailey Hall has come a long way since its dedication gala in 1979. Its $5.6 million renovation was christened in late 2014 with the infamous “Fangate” gubernatorial debate between Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott.
Before the renovation, Barnard says, “there were pieces of the ceiling that were falling on patrons’ heads. So that’s been completely repaired. The seats are new – that’s one of the best things about it.”
The original theater had “continental seating” with no aisles but wider rows. When the seats were replaced, aisles were added but the legroom remains. Wood paneling was installed to enhance acoustics and a more-modern permanent proscenium replaced the curtain over one of South Florida’s largest stages.
“It’s huge – dance companies love it because there’s so much room,” Barnard says. “It’s not that much smaller than Broward Center’s stage. Especially for our number of seats, no one else can touch us.
That number – 1,071 seats – cuts the Bailey Hall dynamic both ways: It’s small enough to offer an intimate experience but not big enough to bring in the blockbusters.
Either way, Barnard puts it up against any theater in the area. “It’s a very pleasant place with good sight lines and comfortable seats. The acoustics are excellent. We allow people to take a glass of wine in during the show. Parking is free. There’s not a lot of ways that they beat us.”
With 13 years in the business, Barnard believes one key to getting people to discover Bailey Hall is to offer something distinctive. “There are so many other options. We had to really find what our niche is. Broward Center is the big elephant in the room and we need to try to not just do what they’re doing.
“We could do tribute shows out the wazoo, but I’m going to try to make it my whole career without presenting one. I compare tribute shows to imitation crab. A person who knows what crab tastes like is never gonna go back to that stinking imitation crab.
“Once the general public gets a taste of the good stuff, they keep coming back. Then it becomes a real value to the community. We could pander to them like everyone else does, but we really want to lift them up and inspire them and change their lives.”
That’s where the director feels his doctorate in music gives him an edge. “I know the difference between what is excellent and what is pretty good,” says Barnard, 57. But he also understands it takes more than an intriguing menu.
“We have ramped up our marketing – we tripled it from last year,” he says. “But because our season is really broad, it’s kind of a marketer’s nightmare. A lot of it will happen by word of mouth. It’ll take us really three to four years to get where we need to – no matter what. We’re in it for the long haul.”
“What we call that internally is ‘changing the experience,’” says marketing head Don Cook. “The student experience, the community’s experience of the college itself – Bailey Hall definitely plays into that. We gotta get the word out to show what a gem Bailey Hall is.”
A prime opportunity comes next month when it hosts the televised debate in the race for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat. Such offerings embody the college’s commitment to nurturing its community connection. A good example is the college’s partnership with The Village Square, an open-forum, non-partisan discussion series in which community leaders and experts tackle prominent issues facing the region. Its signature series, Dinner at the Square, begins Oct. 13 with the “New Politics of Hate.”
“We want to portray ourselves as thought leaders in the community, to be on the forefront of hard-driving topics and be relevant – and bring in speakers from around the country,” says Cook, 40, who spent 15 years cultivating tech launches before taking the college post earlier this year.
“Having the opportunity to get back into the public sector appealed to me,” says Cook, who earlier worked for a lobbying firm on campaigns of Jeb and George W. Bush and other Republicans. “When you’re in technology, you’re kind of heads-down. You lose sight of community relations and giving back to the community. And the college prides itself on that.”
To that end, the college’s sponsorships are estimated at $1 million in value to the community, says Adriana Fazzano Ficano, chief of staff. And Cook is looking forward to a new entrepreneurial accelerator program, The Venture Formula, that beginning in January will invest $25,000 each in four startups and foster them with a 12-week mentoring curriculum.
I wanted to bring more of a Silicon Valley feel,” he says, adding that the plans encompass a new facility at the downtown site. “The buildings are coming down and we’re looking at different opportunities to change the skyline here in Broward County, and create a venture district where our accelerator could lead the pack.”
For more info on sponsorships and community programs, please visit broward.edu/community/partnerships
For the complete schedule of “Bailey Hall Presents” shows, and its film and chamber music series, please visit baileyhall.org