The new Pablo Center at the Confluence, a modern arts venue that will support both community arts organizations and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, opened Sept. 22 in downtown Eau Claire.
The $60 million, 130,000-square-foot Pablo Center includes multiple venues to accommodate a variety of audience sizes and performance types, gallery spaces to display hanging wall art and sculptures, and academic spaces and faculty offices for UW-Eau Claire’s theatre program.
With a mission to support the performing, literary and visual arts, Pablo Center will host UW-Eau Claire performances and exhibits, as well as other concerts, performances and Broadway-style touring shows that no other regional campus or community venue previously could support.
“The Pablo Center is a gorgeous facility that will become known on an international level,” said Jason Jon Anderson, Pablo Center executive director. “The incredibly designed performance venues will help the Chippewa Valley celebrate and grow the creative arts in new and extraordinary ways. It’s a new beautiful, welcoming creative hub whose architecture and design are now iconic. We are excited to open our doors this month and launch our inaugural season.”
Pablo Center is possible because of the innovative public-private partnerships among UW-Eau Claire, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, Visit Eau Claire, state of Wisconsin, and private partners and advocates.
Funding sources for the facility included $5 million from the city of Eau Claire, $3.5 million from Eau Claire County, a $15 million state of Wisconsin non-agency grant, $3 million in new market tax credits, and $33.5 million in philanthropy and other sources.
“Pablo Center is an amazing public-private collaboration that allowed us to create an arts center that far exceeds what any one of us could have done on our own,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “This project is a model for how we can and should work together for the good of our campus and our community.”
Since the arts center project was announced, what had been a struggling downtown has morphed into a vibrant area that is attracting a growing number of people who want to live, work and relax in the city’s center.
“The creative arts are driving economic development in the Chippewa Valley, helping to make this an attractive place for companies to invest and grow, and for their employees to live,” Schmidt said. “We are seeing more UW-Eau Claire graduates choosing to stay here or come back. They tell us they are drawn to a city that values the arts, but also offers jobs in health care, technology and other growing fields.”
Zach Halmstad, co-founder of the tech company Jamf, is among Eau Claire’s business leaders who was motivated to invest in downtown Eau Claire because of the Pablo Center. After plans for the new arts center were announced several years ago, the UW-Eau Claire music graduate decided to build a new office building for his 500-plus tech employees downtown.
Since then, more than $120 million in investments have occurred in the downtown area, including small businesses, apartments, boutique hotels, craft breweries, and an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops.
A former lumber town, the Eau Claire area has long had a thriving music and arts scene, with high school and UW-Eau Claire music programs attracting and nurturing talented students. While some of those local talents have gone on to make their lives and careers in places like New York City or Los Angeles, others — including Grammy-winning artist Justin Vernon — continue to live in Eau Claire.
Vernon, a UW-Eau Claire religious studies graduate, is a partner in a downtown Eau Claire boutique hotel and restaurant. His annual Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival brings thousands of music lovers from all over the world to the Chippewa Valley every summer, helping to cement the city’s growing reputation as a millennial-friendly arts enclave.