Q&A and Breaking News With Scottsdale Arts CEO Gerd Wuestemann

Earlier this year, Scottsdale Arts debuted the newly renovated Civic Center, located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. A project that had been in talks for over 20 years, the updated outdoor spaces now offer a more open concept for visitors, as well as a 360º stage, new pieces of art and more. 

While the renovations were unveiled in January, the updates to the space aren’t done yet.

Michael & Ellie Ziegler

It was just announced that following the recent death of local philanthropist Michael Ziegler, Scottsdale Arts is poised to receive a trust of over $11.5 million over the next nine months — the largest single donation in the organization’s history. These funds have been designated for an upcoming capital initiative aimed at enhancing Scottsdale Arts’ community outreach and educational efforts through the arts. 

After Michael’s wife Ellie’s death in 2021, Scottsdale Arts received an initial estate gift of $1.5 million, a $1.5 million capital grant from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, as well as additional funding. This financial support has paved the way for Scottsdale Arts to construct the Ziegler Theater. This state-of-the-art, modular theater will boast 240 seats and is scheduled to be completed in time for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in 2025.

“We are equal parts excited about this gift and saddened by the tremendous loss to our community,” said Wuestemann. “Ellie and Michael were among the most wonderful people we knew, with a deep sense of commitment to the arts and philanthropic endeavors. We miss their presence every day and are deeply committed to honoring their legacy through responsible stewardship and commemorating them with new facilities and services.”

With the summer heat soon behind us, guests can take advantage of the renovated Civic Center this fall. Wuestemann talked to us about the space and what guests can expect to see.

Q: Tell us about the renovation project.

A: For over two decades, Scottsdale had been discussing a much-needed update to its lovely but aging Civic Center. I distinctly remember my first few weeks in the job back in March 2018 — I would walk around the place and dream about outdoor venues. October through May, this is the best place in the world to gather communities outside for great performing arts experiences.

A year later, we had a chance to define this project, create some vision sketches and include it in the 2019 Scottsdale Bond. Civic Center passed as the number-one ranked project and was the first to be built coming out of the pandemic. This created some challenges: supply chain issues caused delays, and inflation increased costs. However, in the end, we created a new 14-acre Civic Center Campus with three world-class outdoor stages, improved accessibility, a much reduced water-use footprint and iconic architecture that connects beautifully to the existing iconic Benny Gonzales buildings.

We always wanted to ensure that the performance stages would be open, useful shade structures during day use, but could transform into exciting event platforms, including a kids’ play zone, splash areas, fountains and iconic public art from Scottsdale Arts’ Public Art Program. We commissioned a wonderful new mosaic by Arizona artist Tammi Lynch-Forrest, ‘The Desert’s Garden’ composed of 8,600 individual pieces, resited LOVE and other sculptures, and repaired the beloved Yearlings. There’s ample free parking in two garages, accessibility systems and ride-share drop spots. This new outdoor campus, framed by our Center for the Performing Arts and SMoCA buildings, allows us to host large-scale concerts, events and festivals with up to 15,000 patrons per day.

Q: What concerts and events can people expect to see there this fall?

A: Our inaugural season already runs 70 events strong and has some amazing highlights right out of the gate. In partnership with the City of Scottsdale, we are kicking off our Fall in Love with Civic Center campaign with our first big show on the main East Bowl Stage on Oct. 3. Iconic Chicago band Wilco makes their first Scottsdale appearance — only days after their newest album release. We could not have wished for a better first show. On Oct. 26, the celebration continues with the 50th anniversary of our first public art piece, Louise Nevelson’s Windows to the West, and the inauguration of the newly commissioned mosaic near City Hall.

On Nov. 3 and 4, we are hosting the first two-day festival, using all new venues: Dreamy Draw is a brand-new Americana festival, headlined by iconic performers, often with strong Arizona ties: Midland, Lord Huron, Trampled by Turtles, Margo Price and many more. Nov. 9 will be a celebration of our veterans and their service to the country, with a free performance by the extraordinary U.S. Army Field Band. More Americana is in store with one of my favs: Nov. 18, we bring The Mavericks outside. 

By the way — kudos to the Scottsdale Arts team for managing all these November events at the same time as we are producing Canal Convergence Nov. 3-12!

As we look toward the spring, the Arizona Concours d’Elegance makes its second appearance, as does the TASTE culinary event and the city’s annual Bunnanza family Easter celebration. Our Sun & Sounds free community concerts are also back throughout the spring. From movie nights to rock shows to Yoga on the Lawn and Shakespeare in the Park the new Civic Center is once again becoming the beating heart of this community.

Q: How can the arts bring the community together?

A: The arts can sometimes appear a bit elite, not as inclusive and inviting as we’d like. We believe that taking the arts outside and bringing them to the community makes them more accessible. It can feel a little uncomfortable to some, having to dress up, sit quietly in a chair even if the performance is spellbinding. But when you can come to a park, sit on a blanket and bring the entire family; when kids can move around and you can hoot and holler a bit with excitement for many, this makes first arts experiences so much more enjoyable. We are passionate about the arts and how the arts can bring us together, transform us, and build better communities. We think providing these amazing shared experiences under a starry desert sky is a powerful way to serve our entire community.

For more behind this Frontdoor, visit scottsdalearts.org.

About Abby Petersen

Abby is Frontdoors Media's Digital Editor and Production Coordinator. She has a background in writing, social media management and public relations.
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