Curtain call

Clayton Center for the Arts celebrates gala grand opening

The Orchestra and Maryville College Concert Choir, the Maryville College Community Chorus and Voices of Praise acknowledges the audience’s applause.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

The Orchestra and Maryville College Concert Choir, the Maryville College Community Chorus and Voices of Praise acknowledges the audience’s applause.

“Nothing beats live.”

Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes and key volunteer for fundraising for the new Clayton Center for the Arts, was quick to give his assessment at the celebration gala Saturday, March 27.

“You know what came to mind last night and this evening?” Clayton said. “Nothing beats live. For Chelly and I to have the opportunity just to drive down the road and hear live music and see a performance, it just doesn’t get any better.”

Clayton praised the planners who put together the line up of local talent and individuals who performed at the gala.

His father, Jim Clayton, performed in the second half and expressed his gratitude to the community. “On behalf of the Clayton family, I want everyone to know how fortunate and proud we are to be a part of all this,” Jim Clayton said.

Saturday evening’s events included Dr. Robert Bonham and Jennifer Olander on piano; “Rufus Recalled,” a sketch written by Charles Wright and performed by Bruce McKinnon and David Dwyer; Will Tate and 6ix Mile Express; John Wesley Wright; the Appalachian Ballet Company performing the “Celebration Dance” from their upcoming “Peter Pan” production; Robinella; and Delores Zielger performing before intermission.

In the second half, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander played the Alexander Family Steinway piano; Jim Clayton strummed and sang, introducing 13-year-old Logan Murrell who sang and played; John Cherry, marketing director for the Clayton Center for the Arts and a member of the Foothills Community Players, led a community ensemble in an excerpt from “The Music Man;” Pistol Creek Catch of the Day entertained; and the Orchestra and Maryville College Concert Choir, Maryville College Community Chorus and Voices of Praise wrapped up the grand opening gala program.

Anne Souder, who portrays Peter Pan in the upcoming Appalachian Ballet production, had one of the most unique views of anyone at the Clayton Center for the Arts gala event. She “flew” in her role as Peter Pan, soaring above the dancers before lightly touching down to join them as the Appalachian Ballet performed a scene from the upcoming production, which will be on stage at the Clayton Center on April 23-24.

“I got a beautiful view of the new theater,” said Souder. “It was an adrenaline rush. It was an opportunity to show what the Appalachian Ballet is all about.”

Appalachian Ballet Company artistic director Amy Moore Morton said she was thrilled with the theater. “The acoustics are wonderful. When the audience claps, our dancers said they could just feel it,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander played “Ivory Place” on the Alexander Family Steinway, a piece he originally heard performed by Henry Barraclough years ago on Maryville College campus when he was a child.

Alexander said his mother made him practice his piano. “I practiced piano in the mornings so I could play football in the afternoon,” he said.

Dr. David Erwin said the facility is beautiful. “I’m thrilled we have this in Blount County. This type of facility, it is state-of-the-art,” he said. “It rivals anything in Atlanta or Washington, D.C.”

Wilson Borden, senior vice president with Lawler-Wood, LLC, which managed the project, was happy with the finished product. “We think it has been a long road, but it has been worth every step. It’s a fabulous facility,” he said. “It is like everything else -- you start with a concept and when it evolves and you finally see bricks and mortar and go into the theater and recital hall, it is a great feeling.”

Dr. Otto and Kim Slater said they enjoyed the new facility. “This is a world-class venue, world class. It sets our community apart from others,” said Otto, to which Kim added, “This is fabulous.”

State Rep. Robert Ramsey said the Clayton Center for the Arts is a magnificent venue. “As a citizen of Maryville, I am proud of the accomplishment of our community and Maryville College. All of us will enjoy the influence of this facility,” he said.

Mary Beth West said the new facility will bolster the quality of life in Blount County. “It’s going to be a regional draw for folks who want to take advantage of cultural opportunities,” she said.

State Sen. Doug Overbey said the facility would also reach beyond its cultural influence. “One thing I’ve learned is that the arts are true economic engines throughout the state. I think that will be the effect with the Clayton Center,” he said.

Rob Britt, Blount County Schools director, said the new facility will open doors for students. “It’s an opportunity for every child to reap the benefits of the arts,” he said.

Bill Hammon, assistant city manager for Alcoa, said the city always supported the center. “We’ve always felt a venue like this is part of the cultural arts of a community. I think it’s going to generate lot of opportunities to showcase local talent and bring in world-class talent,” he said. “We’re really excited about the kickoff.”

Matt Alexander, owner of Dancing Bear Lodge, said the new center will help business. “It will be very beneficial for tourism,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to bring folks into the community.”

Maryville College alum Tim Self said the college is already getting a better reputation among prospects because of the new Clayton Center for the Arts. “I was in Chattanooga and met a couple from Memphis who said their daughter was thinking of going to Maryville College because of the new Clayton Center for the Arts,” he said.

Randy Massey, owner of Massey Electric and Cherokee Millwright, praised those in the community who helped build the facility. “You look around at the people in this room: The dream they started has just been realized,” he said.

Attorney and Appalachian Ballet Company board chair Clint Woodfin was amazed at what he saw in the new facility. “It’s unbelievable. This is my first time in here, and it is so much more than I thought it would be,” he said.

David Anderson and his wife, Eva, said they recently moved back to the area. “I think it is a major step for the City of Maryville and for East Tennessee. It’s a great addition to Maryville, Blount County and East Tennessee, and we should all attend functions and support it,” he said.

Alcoa Middle School principal Jim Kirk said students at the school recently visited the center to watch a play. “I think this is such a great thing for the community. It’s such a tremendous opportunity to expose children to the fine arts. We used to have to go to Knoxville, but now we can stay here in Blount County,” he said.

Brenda Sellers said the facility is exciting for the community. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity for students,” she said.

Joe Dawson and his wife, Sue, said the Clayton Center has a big city feel. “It’s just like being in New York City,” he said. Joe Dawson said the fine arts department at the college throughout the years have struggled with aging facilities. “This puts us on the forefront of the fine arts again, and it bring a new piece to our quality of life.”

Dr. Clint Wight said the facility is important, but not just for Maryville College students. “It is something everyone should be proud of,” he said. “I think it can inspire lots of students.”

Cherry said the organizers who planned the grand opening weekend were happy with the Jo Dee Messina concert on Friday night.

“We were so pleased with the quality of the concert and the audience reaction. Everyone was pleased with Jodi and the performance and how it sounded,” he said. “It was a fantastic way to get the whole weekend started.”

Oliver “Buzz” Thomas said the same type of facility was opened in Greeneville, Tn., and became a regional draw for the arts. “For something like this to happen takes visionary leadership,” he said.

Knoxville-born actor David Keith served as master of ceremonies and gave his assessment of the Clayton Center for the Arts as the Saturday evening gala event wrapped.

“This is as good as it gets anywhere in the world,” Keith said.

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