Cultural Conversations With: Rob Steele

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor

Delray Beach’s historic, cultural arts hub is going by a new name that should sound familiar.

Old School Square has gone back to its roots, touting its original name with a new flair and leader.

Rob Steele has been the Chief Executive Officer and president of the arts of Old School for six months.

His goal is to create a place that offers something for everybody whether that means people enjoy a picnic on the campus of the city’s former high and elementary school, catch a show inside the Crest Theater or rock out to one of the Friday night concerts hosted at the outdoor pavilion.

“Delray Beach is a cool, funky arts town,” he said. “A lot of people have never been here. We need to get people inside and have something for everybody.”

To achieve his goal, Steele said he is planning to launch what he calls “a la carte” season tickets. Instead of having to select a package of shows to attend, which may not appeal to everyone or the dates may not work, folks will be able to select five different shows they want to attend that work for them.

The types of events will also begin to vary to include productions that feature locals, traveling acts and more offerings for children and families, he said.

“We have to include entertainment,” he said. “The word ‘arts’ can be a little off-putting to some folks. Art can and should be for everybody.”

At Steele’s previous job, he said a major focus was to find ways to get students into the venue to see a professional production or show. He plans to work on ways to transport kids from schools to the audience of a show.

“Their eyes light up,” he said. “We need to find a way to get kids here and offer affordable access to the arts for families.”

He also plans to come up with ways to let people know there is more to the facility than just catching a comedian or a performance. The campus offers a creative arts school, a free museum, an outdoor pavilion, a gymnasium and the outdoor park.

“We need to expose people to the pavilion and the gym and let people know the whole campus is available,” he said.

He also wants to make sure folks know that Old Square Square has events and activities going on all year round not just during the city’s “season.”

More offerings will begin to be planned year round at all of the venues, he said.

A major priority of Steele’s is to transform the outdoor campus into a place that people don’t just walk through, but stop and picnic there, throw a frisbee or kick a soccer ball around.

“The park is for everyone,” he said. “I want people to go to Old School Square park not through Old School Square park.”

Plans to renovate the space have caused contention between city officials who want to preserve the historic backdrop.

Steele said his main initiative is to create a place that folks are proud of, value and is attractive.

Ultimately, he would like to see the pavilion receive a retractable roof so weather doesn’t become a factor in scheduling performances.

Already in the works are collaborative projects between Old School Square and other city agencies and nonprofits.

Steele said he is working with the city’s Downtown Development Authority to grow the “art walk” that takes place on the first Friday of every month.

He said Old School Square is also working with other nonprofits including the Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Beach Public Library and Historical Society to create a “Beyond the Beach” passport of activities to do in town.

“We want people to feel that Old School Square is a great value to the community,” he said.