Southwestern College emerged from the pandemic with a grand opening dedication of a magnificent Performing Arts Center and the community welcome reception for new Superintendent/President Dr. Mark Sanchez.
In a dual celebration Wednesday, community members and Southwestern College faculty and staff heralded the ultimate transformation of what had been a vacant corner lot for more than 50 years. With the dedication of the $66 million Performing Arts Center, it joins its sister Wellness and Aquatics Complex to realize the full community potential of Southwestern College.
“These are grand opportunities for our community to engage with Southwestern College,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Mark Sanchez.
Serenaded by students from Mariachi Garibaldi and Southwestern College Jazz faculty before the ribbon cutting ceremony, community members dined in the shadow of the majestic performing arts center.
Once inside, attendees watched student performances in the intimate 170-seat black box theater and in the dance studio before experiencing Dr. Sanchez’ journey from growing up in Barrio Logan, graduating from Southwestern College and returning to lead the college.
In his heartfelt speech to the audience, Sanchez often drew upon his youth and his parents’ examples of generosity as the guideposts for his current leadership.
“We will get through this tough time like we have many other challenges,” Sanchez said. “My parents left a legacy in the community. They understood through their life experiences they had everything they had ever needed to help someone in need.
“These values are ingrained in the person I am today, and the way in which myself, in collaboration with the amazing talent that exists at Southwestern College, will lead,” he said.
Thanks to the generosity of South County voters in their support of Propositions R and Z, the new Performing Arts Center is a reality. Students and the community will have access to the main theater with state-of-the-art acoustics and lighting that seats 500 occupants comfortably.
The facility is made complete with spacious classrooms designed for lectures, dance rehearsals and theater classes. Students will no longer have to build their sets on stage, but rather have their own designated areas for set production. The hallways are strategically designed to include television screens to view performances from the main stage and other parts of the building.
Student Jaden Guerrero, a theater student, was so thrilled when he stepped into the building for the first time this week.
“It’s nothing like the old theater at Mayan Hall,” Guerrero said. “There are so many more rooms and spaces. This is definitely going to be the place that people want to go to for theater. We have a space now that will help performers be performers.”
Professor Ruff Yeager mentioned how he is eager to also be a student in this new space.
“Performing arts is in a different rhythm than it once was,” Yeager said. “The irony is that we have a brand new performing arts center in which are going to realize a different rhythm, learn to give and take and build our programs stronger than what they were.
“We are all learning,” he said. “How do we use this space? How do I follow my students’ lead? What do my students need? How are we going to represent our community in this space? I think in this new rhythm, we are learning to be very intentional with our programming. The stories that we put on these stages are going to be very intentional in representing our tudents and community and answering these questions.”
Students are also eager to perform together—in person. Evidence is that all in-person theater classes are full for the fall semester.
“I am just happy that they are giving us a chance to pursue our dreams and our life again,” said theater student Marcel Ferrin. “We are just excited to be performing again. We are excited to try again. For students like us that pursue acting, it fills the soul. We can do a job and get paid money, but it doesn’t pay the heart.”