The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is the first of its kind in the nation: Owned by a state, but managed by a non-profit organization, giving Tennessee citizens the same opportunities in the performing arts and cultural heritage available to people living in major cities nationwide, introducing school children to the worlds of theater, ballet, symphony and opera, to enhance their education, inspire their imagination, and enrich their lives.
Dreaming of opportunities in the arts and a well-rounded education for their children and grandchildren, a group of private citizens, led by Martha Ingram, proposed an arts center for the citizens of Tennessee to the state legislature in 1972. Funding for the arts center, built in conjunction with the James K. Polk State Office Building and the Tennessee State Museum, was approved only after a private fundraising effort established an endowment of more than $4 million. Prior to the September 1980 dedication of the Center, the state legislature created the TPAC Management Corporation to oversee the public-private partnership. This unique non-profit organization was charged with the responsibility of providing affordable performance spaces for resident artistic companies and offering educational experiences in the arts for Tennessee school children.
During that first fragile 1980-81 season, TPAC presented 119 performances for a total attendance of 84,000. The opening of the arts center was strengthened by the traditions of TPAC’s first two resident companies: Nashville Symphony, founded in 1946 and Circle Players, a community theater founded in 1949. The combined total of the budgets of these three organizations was less than $1 million. Three more professional companies took residence at TPAC within the next five seasons: Nashville Opera, Tennessee Repertory Theatre, and Nashville Ballet.
TPAC Education established Humanities Outreach in Tennessee (HOT) in 1983, receiving the Governor’s Award for Artistic Excellence at the conclusion of its first season. A nationwide model for arts-in-education programs, HOT has served more than 1.5 million children from all 95 counties in Tennessee. Following an operational merger with the Nashville Institute for the Arts in 2000, the programs of TPAC Education, in addition to HOT, now include ArtSmart, which brings teaching artists to local schools; Wolf Trap Early Learning through the Arts, for pre-school children; Disney Musicals in the Schools for Metro Nashville Elementary Schools; and TPAC InsideOut, designed to enrich the theater-going experience for adults.
The performance venues at TPAC are Andrew Jackson Hall (2,472 seats), James K. Polk Theater (1,075), Andrew Johnson Theater (288) and War Memorial Auditorium (1,668), the historic landmark located across 6th Avenue and the plaza from the Center.
Today, the center is booked to near-capacity, presenting up to 500 performances each year, attended by up to 500,000 audience members.
The combined budgets of TPAC and its resident companies now exceed $20 million. The $4 million endowment has grown to $21 million. Approximately 45,000 students and teachers participate in programs of TPAC Education each year. Nashville is now a major market for Broadway tours, while TPAC also presents special engagements of artistic relevance and popular acclaim, ranging from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Joan Rivers, Tony Bennett and Mariachi Vargas to the magic of David Copperfield, from Dora the Explorer for young audiences to the comedy of Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. TPAC’s Family Field Trips presents a series of performances geared to children and adults, with a low admission price and pre-show activities in the lobby.
Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera, and Tennessee Repertory Theatre are still in residence at TPAC, following the 2004 departure of Circle Players and the 2006 construction of a new hall for The Nashville Symphony. TPAC also serves a wide variety of rental clients including dance recitals, schools, corporations, and such artists as Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Brandi Carlile, Craig Ferguson, Rodney Carrington, Death Cab for Cutie, Lady GaGa, Joan Baez, Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, and David Sedaris.
For some, TPAC is a dream come true, a source of "food for the soul." For others, TPAC is good for the economy – attracting industry, creating jobs, increasing business downtown, generating tax revenues. For one person, TPAC is a home for centuries-old cultural traditions. For another, TPAC is a place to laugh at the comedy or listen to the music. Together, artists, audiences, administrators, educators and supporters will carry the mission of TPAC into the next century. TPAC invites you to take part in the ongoing story of growth, success and service to the citizens of Tennessee.