Centrum a haven where artists can ‘spread their wings,’ Jefferson chamber told
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Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman addresses the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Centrum, the arts organization headquartered at Fort Worden State Park, provides an interactive environment to support the pursuit of creative endeavors, the association’s executive director told a business audience Monday.

“Centrum is a place where artists can share their talents and spread their wings,” Rob Birman said at a Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting.

“It is a unique environment unrivaled by any other institution in the country,” he said.

“It is a place where people of any age can share traditions and push the limits of what young people are capable of.”

Throughout the year, Centrum sponsors performance workshops for jazz, blues, voice, fiddles, writing and chorale, all of which allow novices to interact with experts and learn from each other.

The newest event, this week’s Ukulele Festival, is attempting a “soft opening” as initial interest exceeded its capacity and the event was not widely advertised.

Birman said prominent musicians have participated as instructors at Centrum events, including Doc Watson, Milt Jackson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Johnny Mandel.

Additionally, several students have gone on to become well-known, including Kenny G, Diana Krall — and a very young Derek Kilmer, who spent one of his first weekends away from his Port Angeles parents at a Centrum festival.

Kilmer, who is now a freshman congressman, was a strong Centrum supporter while the Gig Harbor Democrat was in the state Senate, Birman said.

“The relationships formed at Centrum last a lifetime,” Birman said,

“An amateur and a professional can sit side by side, learning traditions and keeping them alive.

“We push the limits of what young people are capable of doing when we put them into a cooperative environment and group learning.”

Birman showed a picture of a back-porch jam session, where a 12-year-old boy was playing a stand-up bass alongside professionals.

“Any gathering at Centrum events provides an unscripted time for students and artists to come together, and this can happen anywhere on campus,” Birman said.

Birman said the future of Centrum has three exciting aspects: the implementation of the Fort Worden Public Development Authority’s lifelong learning center; a new strategic plan; and a historical documentary being made by Port Townsend filmmakers Jane Champion and Michael Delagarza.

Birman said that having the development authority in place will streamline operations “so we don’t have to deal with state bureaucracy every time we need to change a light bulb.”

Birman said next year’s renovation of Fort Worden Building 202 — the new home of Peninsula College and Goddard College — will provide the campus with a high-tech educational center that will draw other programs and people to the site.

“Centrum hopes to push the boundaries of what people in the region have experienced and have access to,” Birman said.

“We help young people experience a world that is beyond what they see at home.”

For more information on Centrum, call 360-385-3102 or go to www.centrum.org.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 09. 2013 5:42PM
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