EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — On any given night, visitors walking by the Pablo Center on the Confluence may be able to catch the faint sound of strings, laughter or applause coming from the $60 million state-of-the-art performance center.
Since opening in 2018, the Pablo Center has hosted hundreds of acts from country music star LeAnn Rimes to touring Broadway musicals to the regional children’s theater.
“We have navigated successfully for the last five years, including through the pandemic,” said Jason Jon Anderson, the Executive Director of the Pablo Center. “We present over 300 performances annually here to the region.”
The lineup various from night to night. The Pablo Center was built to replace both the city’s performing arts center and the performance center on the campus of UW- Eau Claire. The University’s theater department is housed inside the building and about 100 nights are reserved for university productions. Another 100 days of shows are reserved for local affiliates including The Eau Claire Children’s Theater, The Master Singers, Chippewa Valley Theater Guild, Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra, Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra, Eau Claire Jazz, Inc., Eau Claire Male Chorus and the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra.
The “Pablo Presents” series is responsible for filling another 100 to 125 nights with touring Broadway shows and live music of all genres from indie to country to classical. The extensive lineup is meant to draw in visitors of all tastes, with about 120,000 people walking through the doors every year.
“People have been gathering to watch performing arts since the Greeks and its part of our human nature to want to share in those experiences together,” Anderson said. “Once you step inside an auditorium, that’s the great equalizer. The lights go down, it suddenly doesn’t matter what your political divisiveness may be, but rather you’re there to see entertainment. It equalizes in a really amazing fashion.”
The idea for the Pablo Center began in 2012 because of the Clear Vision Eau Claire, a county-wide initiative to develop a strategic plan for the region. The performance center was established through a public/private partnership. Anderson calls it the first attempt at such a partnership at this scale within the state of Wisconsin. The city chipped in $5 million from a tax-increment financing district, the county added another $3.5 million and a state grant contributed another $15 million to the project, with donations and fundraising efforts bringing in another $33.5 million.
Developers also tapped into $3 million in new market tax credits for the project.
“This wasn’t built to be an economic driver, that wasn’t the intention, the intention was really just to revitalize downtown,” said Anderson. “We didn’t realize that it would lead to a quarter billion dollars, so $250 million of additional commercial development around the facility since it was announced in 2014 publicly.”
While the performing arts can take center stage, the visual arts are also thriving inside the Pablo Center. It houses multiple art galleries for rotating exhibitions, including the Confluence of Art Annual Exhibition. The juried exhibit showcases work from national and regional artists. Visitors can look forward to the spring exhibition which opens in May.