Think Out Loud

Patricia Reser Center for the Arts is making Beaverton an arts destination

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
Oct. 18, 2023 3:48 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Oct. 18

The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts opened in March 2022 in downtown Beaverton. The venue features live musical performances, art exhibits, classes, meeting and rehearsal spaces.

The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts opened in March 2022 in downtown Beaverton. The venue features live musical performances, art exhibits, classes, meeting and rehearsal spaces.

The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts


For many arts organizations in Portland and across the nation, recovery from the pandemic has been painfully slow or downright elusive. Lagging box office sales are forcing companies like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Artists Repertory Theatre to layoff staff and cancel or scale back entire seasons. So it’s all the more surprising to see an arts venue in the region that has drawn more than 70,000 people since it opened last year for musical performances, art exhibits, community events and classes. The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts opened in March 2022 in downtown Beaverton and features a 550-seat theater, art gallery, outdoor plaza, meeting and rehearsal spaces. Executive director Chris Ayzoukian joins us to talk about the new season which launched last month and his hopes for the future amid uncertainty around arts funding and audience demand.

The auditorium at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, as seen in early 2022, has 550 seats as well as a state of the art sound system.

The auditorium at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, as seen in early 2022, has 550 seats as well as a state of the art sound system.

Nate Sjol / OPB

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We’ve heard many stories in recent months about struggling arts organizations in Oregon and around the country. Lagging box office sales are forcing institutions like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Artists Repertory Theatre to lay off staff and scale back or cancel entire seasons. Meanwhile, a brand-new arts center in downtown Beaverton seems to be thriving. The Patricia Reser Center for the Arts opened in March of 2022. It features a 550-seat theater, an art gallery, outdoor plaza, meeting and rehearsal spaces. It’s drawn more than 70,000 people since it opened. Executive director Chris Ayzoukian joins us to talk about it. Welcome to the show.

Chris Ayzoukian: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Miller: What were your hopes right before you opened?

Ayzoukian: The hope is that people will embrace this new place. You spend many, many years planning for something…

Miller: You’d been there for five years at that point?

Ayzoukian: That’s right. I was hired relatively early to help with the planning and the fundraising and the opening and the design as well.

Miller: So the hope was that people would embrace it. But did you have specific metrics as well, in addition to that kind of important but hard to put your finger on “community embrace?”

Ayzoukian: With a center like ours, there are doors, and you want people to come in those doors. That’s the physical manifestation of people embracing a place like ours. So attendance, of course.

But also, people seeing themselves differently, which is an interesting phenomenon that happens when an arts organization has an impact on its community, which is a sense of pride. And since opening, we’ve heard both residents in Beaverton and people all across the metro area who visit the Reser saying, “wow, I never thought something like this could happen in Beaverton”. “I’ve been here for 30 plus years as a resident and I couldn’t feel as proud as I am now.”

Miller: So how has the reality compared to your hopes?

Ayzoukian: One thing that we were very cautious about is to be conservative in our projections. Art centers like this open all across the country and, for lack of a better term, lose their shirts in the first few years. We have been very thoughtful and measured in our approach, our growth plan. And so we have exceeded all of our goals. Again, they’ve been conservative because like I said, you do many years of planning, but that’s on paper.

Miller: And a lot of places don’t open in the middle of a pandemic either.

Ayzoukian: That’s right. That’s the other thing that really impacted our plans, which caused us to be even more conservative. And we’re all living that out now, including all of our fellow arts organizations around the region.

Miller: How have you been approaching programming?

Ayzoukian: Beaverton is actually one of the most culturally diverse cities in all of Oregon, along with Hillsboro. Cultural diversity is in our DNA in the city, and the city takes great pride in it, and champions cultural diversity, and is a welcoming and safe city. And so that naturally translated into our programming. We look at discovery, diversity, welcoming people of all cultures and backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds. We really hang our hat on that in our Reser Presents programming, where we say we bring the world to our stage.

Miller: What has that meant in terms of the countries that performers have come from?

Ayzoukian: This year, for example, we have a Latin and South American focus throughout our season in the fall, and also next spring. We opened our doors on International Women’s Day in March of 2022 with a group from Zimbabwe called Nobuntu, an a cappella group. And then of course we also explore American traditions as well. So we look at artists from all over the world. We just hosted a concert by the great Gambia kora player named Sona Jobarteh just a few nights ago. It’s a place where artists from all over the world can express themselves to the community.

Miller: Are there shows that have been particularly memorable for you or meaningful for you?

Ayzoukian: Yeah, there’s so many. That first night, of course, with Nobunto. We had the Count Basie jazz orchestra, with players who played with Count Basie, a few nights after. And then we had an incredible artist named Ron Artis, who’s really making waves now around the country. It’s hard to choose just a few. Sometimes I walk out of there going “oh my goodness.” For example, Amythyst Kiah, who’s a folk and roots artist. She played one of her first headlining shows in our theater last year. She’s now taken off all over the world. I think she’s gonna win a Grammy any day now.

Miller: How did you all decide on the size of a theater? 550 seats, would you call that a mid-size theater?

Ayzoukian: It’s a small to mid-size.

Miller: Theoretically, you could have built a 1,500-seat theater, or larger. Why choose that small to mid-size?

Ayzoukian: It’s an interesting question. The size has to do with a few things. But most of all, for us, it was about intimacy and sustainability. You want most of your nights in the theater to be full, because that’s what creates that communal experience. So looking at the region, looking at the west side, looking at construction dollars, space, there’s a few different things to consider. We thought long about what can we do well? How can we do it well? And what we landed on based on all of those factors was this sweet spot.

550 is an interesting size because it’s not tiny and it’s not huge. And so especially if you walk into our theater, it feels like a small 550, an intimate one. And more and more people are looking for that direct connection. Audience members are looking for that direct connection with artists. And the space really offers that. You feel as if the artist is playing for you.

Miller: Does it also define the kinds of artists who you can bring in? Some who can’t draw that many people, and others who wouldn’t play for fewer than 5,000?


Ayzoukian: Yeah, it really does. So we do a few different things. For example, we have a major star, Rhiannon Giddens, coming this year. It’s already sold out. And she’s playing two nights. So, multiple nights, when artists can do that in their schedules. Pink Martini, for example, opened our inaugural season with four nights, sold out.

But then on the smaller side, we have the capability of closing off the balcony. So the first floor is about 350 seats. So for those artists or organizations who don’t need the full theater, we can scale down.

Miller: Do you have a favorite spot in the entire complex? The theater is just one part of this pretty sprawling place, right on the water. Do you have a secret, favorite spot?

Ayzoukian: Yeah, it’s not so secret. Aside from the theater, I actually go into the theater sometimes when I can, and I sit when it’s quiet just to listen to the silence. It’s a beautiful place.

Miller: You mean during the day, your workday, you’ll just take your laptop down or just go down there and meditate?

Ayzoukian: Both. Mostly without a laptop, just to sit in the space. For me, it’s an opportunity to reconnect, that quiet before everyone comes in, to reconnect to the art form and sitting in an empty theater.

But one of my other favorite spots is what we call the bridge, I think it’s actually named by Jordan Schnitzer. On the second floor, looking over the creek on the plaza, is this beautiful walkway from one side of the theater to the other. And you can see all of the public art on the plaza and the inside, and the beautiful lobby with all of the Douglas fir wood. It’s a beautiful spot.

Miller: A lot of performing arts organizations, as I mentioned in my intro, are really struggling now. Artists Repertory Theatre had to cancel its season. Oregon Shakespeare Festival had a kind of emergency fundraiser recently to prevent the same thing. How are you navigating what seems like a nationwide crisis for arts organizations?

Ayzoukian: Well, for us, we’re still new. We’re a startup. And like I mentioned earlier, we’re being really conservative. One big reason for our success has been like I said earlier, the Beaverton community in the west side embracing the place. The other is, simply put, our funding sources, our supporters, including major funders and including the city of Beaverton who has invested for many years in the arts and this facility.

I don’t want to pretend that we have sold out houses every night. The arts, performing arts and the visual arts, are facing a really difficult time, and have been slow to recover. By some measures, ticket sales are still down about 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Miller: But you can’t compare anything, can you?

Ayzoukian: That’s right. We didn’t have any data. So that’s why we were very conservative.

Miller: You’ve used that word a couple of times now? What do you actually mean when you say, “we’re being conservative?” What are you, for example, not spending money on that you might have if you weren’t being conservative?

Ayzoukian: What happens for any organization, arts or any business, is over time you develop inertia. You’re an organization that’s growing and growing and growing. And of course, it’s important to always question what you’re doing, what you’re spending your money on. For us, we’re being very careful about that inertia. We want to provide programs and services to the community. That’s what we do. We have four major pillars in our organization, which have to do with presenting, bringing great art both in the gallery and on stage, being a community resource for the space itself, arts education, and community engagement. And as we grow, we want to be thoughtful and careful about how we grow.

So when you ask about what we’re saving money on, we’re being very careful about staffing, for example. We’re being very careful to make sure that new programs we invest in are going to be sustainable in the long term. And you never really know. You take risks, and you hope that people will support you. But we’re trying to do that in a step-by-step manner.

Miller: When we talked to the relatively new head of Artists Repertory Theatre recently, what she explained is that the majority of their revenue doesn’t come from ticket sales. But there’s a connection between people going into seats, getting excited about what they see, and then making financial contributions, becoming philanthropists. Is it the same for you? It seems that one big difference is you’re not a performing arts organization. You’re not a theater. You are primarily a space, a venue that can provide different things for other artists. But is your model the same where you need people to get there before they will feel connected, and give you the money which becomes your main source of revenue?

Ayzoukian: That’s right. We are a presenting arts organization. We’re not a producing organization, like a theater or an orchestra or a ballet company. In other words, we don’t have a roster of artists on staff. Reser Presents is our main tool to do that, and the art gallery, we feature Northwest artists.

But it is the same model in the sense that as people come into the theater, they hopefully become more and more connected to the space and to the programming, and they learn. Oftentimes they don’t know that we are a nonprofit, that we need support in addition to the cost of that ticket. And as they develop a connection to the Reser, they see the philanthropic need. And so we have a membership program that does that. For as little as $100 a year, people can support the Reser and get benefits and be more connected. And then of course, major donor programs and such.

So it is the same journey that people take. And it’s a great question because people see a space like ours and go, are you a producer? Are you a presenter? Are you a space? We’re a presenter and we’re a space resource. The majority of activity that happens at the Reser is community rentals, both professional organizations and community organizations, that use the space for connection and events.

Miller: What do you want the Reser’s role in Beaverton to be, over time? You’d mentioned earlier that people have come up to you and said “I’ve been here for 30 years, I never thought we would have something like this. I never thought I would experience this in Beaverton.” Looking forward, what do you want the Reser to mean for Beaverton or the west side?

Ayzoukian: The grand vision many years from now is to help people establish deeper, authentic connections with each other. We’re in the arts, we’re in the emotions business. We bring people together, and we hopefully transform their lives. And our goal is to break down those barriers between people through the arts. And what I would love people to say many, many years from now is that the Reser does good for me and my community. And I want the average person to say that, so that when people walk down the street at the Reser, they know that that building belongs to them, that they see themselves represented in that building. And that it is an indispensable part of their lives.

There’s a lot that goes into that. But we’ve started that journey now, and we’re only just getting started.

Miller: The Schnitz, it’s very different in a lot of ways. It’s much bigger. I should say, for people who aren’t familiar with this, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, where the Oregon symphony plays, and others. But I don’t know that Portlanders would walk down the street and say, “that place, that’s me, I am it.” So what’s the challenge of accomplishing a pretty audacious goal of having all Beavertonians say “that place is mine”?

Ayzoukian: I think it’s similar to the Schnitz. People walk by a place and they think about the experiences they’ve had there. I saw such and such artist. I saw the symphony. I was here with my loved ones.

Miller: I want to make sure that I didn’t say the wrong thing there. I think that a lot of Portlanders may walk by the Schnitz and say, “I had an amazing time there, but it’s a big place that’s a sort of a special occasion place” as opposed to saying, “it’s a part of me.” To me, that’s a distinction I guess I’m getting at.

Ayzoukian: Absolutely. And you’re asking a great question. That’s what all spaces like ours and arts organizations who run them are trying to do. You go from a place where you had an amazing experience, to a sense of ownership that that place is for you, and represents you, and you’re always welcome there. And it’s a source of pride for the city. It’s a little bit like a sports team in a sense. You may not be a sports fan, but you know of your sports team, you’re proud of your basketball or your football team or baseball team. And that transition happens over time.

For us, it’s about opening our doors as widely as possible. And the great thing about an arts center like ours is that there isn’t really any one kind of experience. People have life celebrations there, they have conferences there, they have community meetings there. And so we’re trying to continually find ways for people to not only have transformative experiences, but to see it as a gathering place. And when people do that over time and the news spreads, people say, “oh yeah, I can’t imagine a world without the Reser,” 10, 20 years down the line.

Miller: Chris Ayzoukian, thanks very much.

Ayzoukian: It’s great to be here.

Miller: Chris Ayzoukian is the executive director of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. They opened their doors in March of 2022.

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