As we reported last week in City Watch, the Delray Beach City Commission voted to sever its three-decade lease with Old School Square Center for the Arts, the nonprofit that operates the historic cultural complex at the lip of downtown Delray Beach.
The arts campus’ fate was not an agenda item at the commission, leaving its supporters thoroughly blindsided. Its future is uncertain after the next 180 days, but in the immediate aftermath of the surprise vote, Old School Square has been proactive in rallying the community. It launched a Change.org petition late last week trumpeting its value and arguing its position. As of this writing, “Save the Heart and Soul of Delray Beach: Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc.” has garnered 4,829 signatures in just about three days’ time, and it continues to boomerang around social media.
I’m no expert on city politics—Randy Schultz will publish our follow-ups from this aspect of the story—but as an arts writer, I find the timing for this vote to be a particularly egregious slap in the face to a venue whose influence, after 30-some years, appears to be at its apex. During the pandemic, Old School Square took unprecedented steps to transform its Pavilion into a COVID-safe concert venue, and it has reaped rewards in both revenue and artist prestige: Show attendance up by 1,600 percent, ticket sales up by 134 percent, twice as many bookings than in years past despite the downturn in music tours worldwide.
Just a year ago, it would have been unthinkable that talent such as Jimmy Buffett, King Crimson, Al Di Meola, Bruce Campbell and Kevin Smith would have considered this particular mid-sized venue, which has been known mostly as a location for tribute bands and free Friday concerts. Now, Old School Square is a bona fide economic driver for the city.
Plus, there’s the Crest Theatre, which is poised to reopen this fall after an extensive renovation and modernization, with legendary acts like the Box Tops and John Mayall booked in November to help inaugurate the space.
Even if you support the decision of the three commissioners who voted to terminate the lease, you must admit the optics are terrible. We will have more on this story as it develops.