Q&A With Chris Hansen Of The Dark Room In St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District

It’s Tuesday, a day when the newly relocated Dark Room wine bar/restaurant/gallery hybrid in the lobby of the Grandel Theatre is officially closed. But Chris Hansen, executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, unlocks the door and provides a private tour of the venue’s new digs and its prized music stage. As he points out the wrap-around bar with its ambient and changing overhead lighting, the photo gallery wall and the compact stage area, Hansen doesn’t mask his pride in the foundation’s latest effort to provide an ever-growing list of performance spaces and businesses to elevate the arts in Grand Center.

Over the past few years, the foundation has opened the original Dark Room on Grand, the Marcelle and its intimate black-box theater, the .ZACK Performing Arts Incubator located in the historic Cadillac building on Locust, and more, including 15 arts organizations, a 200-seat theater, a ballroom for special events, the Turn Restaurant and retail space for businesses like Music Record Shop. Clearly, they’ve been busy. Continue reading below for our Q&A with Chris Hansen.

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What’s the mission behind the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and how it manifests in creating spaces like the Marcelle, the .ZACK and the Dark Room?
The foundation is all about building a sustainable arts-funding mechanism through infrastructure. We’re trying to build culture, and we’re approaching that by providing local artists and community-arts organizations with what they need. That can mean theater space for performances as well as space for offices, rehearsal storage and a box office.

What kinds of artists and upcoming acts do these spaces attract?
With the planned opening of the Grandel Theatre in April, another 450-plus seat venue will open, hosting events for eight arts companies through the 2017-18 season. In addition to a full lineup of theater and dance from resident companies in the 2017-18 season, audiences can also expect comedy, concerts and other special events. We also want to pepper in world-class A-list entertainment occasionally as well.

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You have a background as a musician. As someone who has represented artists and shaped venues, how did that background prepare you for your work with the Foundation?
I think if you trace my history, I’ve always been focused on the arts. I started out as musician, and my first company focused on supporting producers and songwriters. I worked at a local talent agency called TalentPlus, where I built out their entertainment division, and then I moved on to start Lola, a restaurant/music venue on Washington Ave. When I came to Grand Center in 2013, I was brought in to try and breathe some life into the Kranzberg Arts Center, and I realized it wasn’t really a departure from what I was doing in the for-profit world: trying to provide work opportunities for art to happen. The different pursuits in my background were reflected in the foundation’s mission. I’m thankful I had the right skillset and was there at the right time to help shape it into what it has become.

I imagine it’s very satisfying to see Grand Center continue to grow and develop, with the assistance of the foundation.
It is, but it isn’t about any one organization. The Grandel’s positioning statement is, “It’s your stage.” So we provide the infrastructure for the artistic community, and then go one step further by helping build new audiences by focusing on patron amenities, like food and beverage here at The Dark Room, which helps support the theatre. The artists then build the audience, and give them a great experience from the time they park to the time they leave. Further, that helps build the St. Louis arts scene that can be sustained in perpetuity.

All photographs courtesy of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation

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