Homes for the arts Howard County: Recycled theater in Ellicott City, new Jim Rouse center a boost for culture.


PERFORMING ARTS in Howard County suffered a blow when the well-regarded Kinetics Dance Theatre announced it was leaving behind its name and its Ellicott City home for Towson after 12 years of success locally. But community entertainment in Howard remains alive and well.

One sign of life comes from the scrappy Ellicott Theater, a formerly moribund corner site that is energizing Main Street with an eclectic range of shows that include jazz and funk, and concerts for teen-agers. Another sign will come next February when the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts ushers in a new era for community entertainment.

The 750-seat Jim Rouse Theatre, built with $1.6 million in public and private contributions, will provide a roomy 12,492-square-foot setting for such events as dance, choral music and symphony. It will contribute to arts education and enhance the pleasure of Wilde Lake school events. Funding of $800,000 from the county, $400,000 from the state and $400,000 from private sources is money well spent.

Howard County's performing arts community formed a unique partnership with the school system to make this happen. It is, to be sure, a marriage of convenience. Given their druthers, arts boosters probably would have preferred an independently operated center. But they compromised to bring the county a centrally located facility that should get plenty of use.

Mary Toth, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, says the ample stage and seating capacity are sorely needed in the county. "It's a new opportunity for community groups to show just how excellent they are, to build an audience, to attract funders and to showcase their work," she said.

The new facility appropriately honors the late Mr. Rouse, Columbia's visionary developer-humanitarian, and should complement Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Back on Main Street, perhaps success finally will come to the 110-seat Ellicott Theater, which has gone through a number of owners and has metamorphosed from a movie house in 1940 to a disco in the 1970s to the home for Onstage Productions for children in the 1980s to a comic book showroom. Maybe the new owner has found the right formula with an audience very receptive to the arts.

Pub Date: 8/20/96

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