Murray Arts Center Debuts in Atlanta
By: Randy Southerland
MARIETTA, GA - The Murray Arts Center represents a unique addition to Atlanta’s growing commitment to education and live entertainment. Recently purchased by the Mount Paran Christian School with the aid of a generous grant from Atlanta’s Murray Family Foundation, the $35 million complex features a 600 seat music hall, an intimate 2,200 sq. ft. black-box theater, three dance studios, a cutting-edge recording studio and a sophisticated video production/post production facility.
Each of the Center’s components is designed to support the development of the Mount. Paran Christian School’s performing arts program, and its dual roles as a multi-faceted campus preparing students for post-secondary degrees in dance, theatre, music, choral and digital media and as a professional-level performance venue.
Crowning a pastoral Marietta, hilltop, the striking 84,000 sq. ft .brick and limestone, multi-level building was developed by award-winning Atlanta-based Randall-Paulson Architects. Distinguished by a soaring 5,600 sq. ft. ‘Grand Lobby’ the complex includes 8,000+ sq. ft. of rehearsal space, dressing and green rooms. The architectural and acoustic design for the Center’s theatrical performance spaces, state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms and high-tech audio/video facilities was entrusted to NY’s Walters-Storyk Design Group www.wsdg.com.
“The Murray Arts Center was conceived as a vehicle for providing professional training for gifted young people and as a catalyst for expanding the local arts community,” explains MPCS headmaster, Dr. David Tilley. “Combining those related but idiosyncratic purposes called for a unique vision. Randall-Paulson designed a superb building, but the theaters, rehearsal rooms, video production and audio recording studios required a very specialized skill set. WSDG has strong credentials in media production, recording, broadcast, theatrical venues and in music performance halls such as NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Center complex. Their work for San Francisco’s Ex’pression College for Digital Arts, the University of Colorado, Florida’s Full Sail, the University of Michigan and other schools confirmed their aptitude for developing innovative and flexible educational environments. They were eminently qualified to serve both aspects of the project.”
“The multi-purpose design program we developed for the Murray Arts Center represents the culmination of a five year project,” remarked WSDG principal architect/acoustician John Storyk. “Sr. project manager Romina Larregina led our team of designers and consultants, making numerous site visits throughout the design and building process to monitor the architectural construction process and consult on the myriad technical, acoustic and aesthetic issues that inevitably arise during a project of this scope.
WSDG systems designer Judy Elliot-Brown played an equally pivotal role. “I focused on two primary elements of the complex, the recording studio program and the theatrical performance areas” notes Elliot-Brown. “Our Basil, Switzerland-based acoustic experts, general manager Dirk Noy and senior acoustician Gabe Hauser, specified the speakers & amplifiers for the theater sound system. Their computer generated room modeling programs confirmed the speaker placement. The measured system performance during the tuning phase perfectly matched their predictions.”
Elliot-Brown also coordinated construction of the theater’s technical areas. She worked closely with lighting, sound & video contractors to create extremely user-friendly rooms. Elliot-Brown was responsible for the conduit and cabling infrastructure as well as monitoring room construction via weekly site visits. “Acoustically sensitive recording studios and live performance rooms are among the most demanding of all the building arts,” she says. “Having a knowledgeable person on site, and particularly one capable of identifying and articulating problems before they are set in stone can save clients substantial amounts of time and money.”
“The Murray Arts Center’s primary role is to serve the Mount Paran Christian School students,” said MPCS Board Chair Ron Mulkey. “Beyond that mission, the Center will also provide a valuable community resource, by hosting a variety of performance events. These will range from full-scale performances by the resident 75-member Cobb Symphony Orchestra, to theatrical productions by local, regional and nationally recognized artists.”
Named in memory of the late wife of Don Dozier, an Atlanta-based philanthropist, builder and founder of the facility, the unique 600 seat Kristi Lynn Theatre incorporates a number of proprietary design features. “These include a fully flyable concert shell, fabricated to optimize reflection control; over $1 million in acoustic treatments including fully soundproof rehearsal rooms; and a $250,000 flying concert shell. These elements insure the absolute optimum listening experience,” John Storyk adds
Design and fabrication was a joint effort of WSDG’s Gabe Hauser and RPG’s Peter D’Antonio. Sixteen-foot high variable acoustic wood doors fixed to the sides of the theater allow the performance space to be easily changed from a symphony hall into a sound reinforced concert hall or a state of the art surround sound cinema.
Capable of producing professional-quality CD, video and DVD programming, the Center’s recording and video production facilities are distinguished by a formidable arsenal of technology. The “crown jewel” of the audio wing is a vintage SSL 9080 recording console originally owned by NYC’s fabled Hit Factory Recording Studio. The console and various pieces of vintage audio gear were obtained for the Murray Arts Center by Dave Malekpour and his Boston-based Professional Audio Design team. PAD was also responsible for fine tuning the console prior to delivery and for the on-site commissioning of the SSL.
The SSL XL 9080 K Series SuperAnalogue™ console became an immediate hit with MPCS students when they learned it had played an essential role in the recording of countless Gold and Platinum records. Other key pieces of equipment include an SSL AWS 900 + Analogue Workstation System and two SSL C200 digital production consoles. These essential tools provide the Center with the potential to make a major impact on the community both as a source for live entertainment and a center of learning.
“The Mount Paran Christian School sits on 65 acres of land purchased from the Murray family in 2001. “The Center will serve as a tribute and permanent memorial to the family and their generosity to MPCS students and the community. With our rich family history and strong ties to this property, the foundation is thrilled to create this legacy for Stuart and Eulene Murray,” a Foundation spokesperson said.
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