When blues legend Keb’ Mo’ played a two-hour set at College of DuPage Feb. 8, he earned the distinction of being the first act booked into the newly-renovated McAninch Arts Center.
Media joined COD officials for a tour of the facility recently that was considered by many to be the crown jewel of the college even before its $35 million facelift.
“We hope you fall in love with the ‘MAC,’” Director Diana Martinez said.
The renovation was finished four months ahead of schedule, an accomplishment Martinez called “actually a miracle,” and covers every section of the 165,000-square-foot building that first opened in 1986 and has seen 1.5 million paying customers pass through its turnstiles.
Visitors will notice the difference in the new MAC from the moment they enter under a new portico, purchase tickets at a completely refurbished ticket office and sit down for coffee or a cocktail at the bar/concession area.
“It used to be literally folding chairs,” Martinez said of the cafe as she led visitors through the area on the way to get a glimpse of the three performing venues available to host events ranging from national touring acts to productions by COD students.
The main venue is the Performance Hall, an 800-seat theater that includes comfortable seating and an interior highlighted throughout by wood accents and a new stage curtain.
With an average of 40 to 50 national events per year headlining at the MAC, and 60,000 to 80,000 paying customers, the college made sure that the renovation included enhancing acoustics in the Performance Hall.
The new walls were designed with material to not only absorb sound, but reflect it back to the audience, and performers, for the best possible musical experience.
Additionally, the room is equipped with a temporary acoustic shell for the stage area, a must for symphony performances and one that can be adjusted depending on the type of music being performed.
The Performance Hall will be the site March 8 of the MAC’s grand opening, a two-show engagement by Jim Belushi, a Wheaton native and COD alum. One show will be a benefit performance and the significance of hosting a show with someone of Belushi’s level of fame is not lost on Martinez.
“To have him come back and do this for us is really quite phenomenal,” she said.
The 184-seat Playhouse Theatre will serve as the home to Club MAC performances staged by students involved in COD’s drama programs, and the Studio Theatre, with 70 seats, will serve as a flexible venue that can be reconfigured for a number of different types of productions.
Both smaller venues will look out over the Patio Stage, a 1,200-person capacity area with a view of a pond, designed for outdoor concerts in mild weather and rentals for private parties.
Other spaces renovated include reconstructed dressing rooms, recital areas, and art studios.
One completely new addition to the MAC is the Cleve Carney Art Gallery, a legacy of the lifelong DuPage resident, businessman and patron of the arts.
The gallery sits just off the main lobby and was built with high ceilings, bamboo wood floors and several large windows to give the room an open, expansive ambience.
Carney left 40 percent of an extensive art collection to the college, including works by prominent artists Ed Paschke, Dorothy O’Reilly and Christo.
While pieces by those artists currently line the walls in the gallery’s first exhibition, the plan is to rotate them with other works in the college’s possession, eventually placing artwork at other locations around the COD campus.
Gallery Curator Barb Wiesen gave an idea of just how extensive Carney’s collection was when she noted that 35 of the pieces donated to the college were from one bathroom in his house.
“I really want to make this like a museum,” she said. “I’d like to see the campus like a public museum.”
While the building occupies essentially the same footprint as the original MAC, the renovation includes structural improvements in keeping with modern environmental concerns. Those improvements include new glazing for windows throughout the facility, skylights to help conserve energy and new white roof, added at a cost of $2 million, to reflect sunlight and deflect heat in the summer.
The MAC’s overhaul is part of an comprehensive campus renovation financed by a $168 million referendum approved by voters in November 2010.
Other buildings included in the renovations are the Physical Education Center, the Student Resource Center and Seaton Computing Center.
Martinez remarked on the changes to the campus in just the past three years.
“If you haven’t been here in the last three years, you really haven’t been here yet,” she said.