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Visual Art

Houston’s MATCH Sparks Excitement in the Arts Community

The MATCH is about to light up Houston’s Midtown and the arts landscape is already beginning to change.


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In the lobby at the front of Zilkha Hall, people are squeezing past each other and visiting the tables manned by representatives from local arts organizations during the recent Theater District Open House. Joseph Wilson stands at a table and greets people, while passing out information about Musiqa, a local chamber music group. The group has given concerts at Zilkha since 2002, but Wilson says they're trying something new this year.

"We're very interested in testing the ambience of the new Midtown performing arts center, MATCH," he says. "So we're moving two of our major shows to the MATCH this coming season."

Maybe you've already caught a glimpse of the MATCH, or Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston. The corrugated aluminum building with large windows on Main Street near Holman is still under construction, but nearly done.

Photo of MATCH rendering
Lake/Flato and Studio RED Architects
One of the theaters inside MATCH fits 350 people, as opposed to 500 at Zilkha. Since Musiqa's audience usually ranges around 350, a place with fewer seats makes more sense.

Dozens of small- to mid-sized performing arts groups like Musiqa are testing out the Match, enticed by its cheaper rates and smaller space. But is this going to cause a drop in the amount of bookings among venues around town?

The Hobby Center's Uniquely Houston/ Discovery Series Managing Director Annalisa Minnitti doesn't think so.

"Yes, we have had some folks that have gone over there, some folks that are doing part of their season there and part of their season here," Minnitti says. "I don't really see that it's been an issue for us. I think the MATCH really is a better fit for some of those organizations."

As the MATCH enters into its final weeks of construction, Executive Director Chuck Still doesn't imagine it'll hurt the business of other venues. He says the Hobby Center's president Fran Macferran has been on their side the whole way.

"He (Macferran) is very supportive and really wants this to work because he sees the need for it," Still says.

There are some groups whose venues don't even require a rental fee, like the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. They often perform in places like churches, museums, and other community spaces. But in this case, says ROCO's Alecia Lawyer, putting up some cash to perform at the MATCH is an investment.

"The idea that we are going to be paying for a space is important because it's investing in this city," Lawyer says. "It's investing in this opportunity and really just reviving the arts in Midtown."

Picture of ROCO on tour at MATCH
Joel Luks
Friends and members of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra took a hard hat tour of the MATCH in late August.
Compared to other venues in town, some groups are paying about a fourth of what they usually pay elsewhere. For organizations like the early music ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston, a larger house can cost up to $4,000 a night. The organization's Kinga Ferguson says that at the MATCH, it's in the neighborhood of $800 to $1,100.

"I think this is an attractive part of performing at MATCH for lots of small organizations that might not afford to perform somewhere else," Ferguson says.

Ars Lyrica Houston onstage at Zilkha Hall. While they're trying out the MATCH in the spring, they say that Zilkha is the place they call home.
Pin Lim, Forrest Photography
Ars Lyrica Houston onstage at Zilkha Hall. While they’re trying out the MATCH in the spring, they say that Zilkha is the place they call home.
She adds that while other places like Zilkha may cost more, the hall's acoustics and other amenities offered are still worth the price. For Ars Lyrica, it'll always be home.

With Houston's performing arts scene growing at the rate it has been, the market for venues doesn't seem to be saturated. There's still plenty of room for the MATCH if you ask Joseph Wilson.

"I think it's complimenting," Wilson says. "There are a number of organizations who just don't quite fit Zilkha and the growth of the arts and the arts community, performing arts-wise, is just incredible here in Houston."

The MATCH's soft opening is set for October 3rd, 2015.

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