The Tateuchi Center, a $195 million performing arts development project planned for downtown Bellevue, has named Ray Cullom its new CEO.

Cullom’s previous 20 years of experience in the not-for-profit arts industry includes the management of five Off-Broadway theaters and the oversight of the construction of a massive performing arts center in Istanbul. Prior to his time in arts management, Cullom also worked as an actor, director, and designer.

“I didn’t see that there was anywhere better than this community to come in and to challenge the people who live here, the corporations who live here, to partner with us to come and discover what that next generation of performing arts spaces is,” Cullom said.

He and his wife and three children will move from New York to the Bellevue area early this summer. When asked why he chose to come to the Pacific Northwest, Cullom said it was a matter of it being the right job in the right location, both for his family and for the arts.

The Tateuchi Center, which will be located at the corner of Northeast 10th Street and 106th Avenue Northeast in downtown Bellevue, will hold at least 2,000 seats in its main concert hall. A smaller, secondary performance space called a “black box” will be built as well. Previously operating as the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE), the Tateuchi Center changed its name in honor of a $25 million gift from the Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation.

The center will present a range of national and international performances, including renowned and emerging musicians, authors, and speakers. “What we’re trying to create here is a space that is welcoming, that is alive all day long with arts and performances happening here daytimes, afternoons, evenings. It’s really a community center where we hope people will come and just hang out,” Cullom said.

Tateuchi Center

While the center will be an ideal space to see traditional performances, like the opera or the symphony, it will also be a place where people can expect to find a lot of amenities, and an overall comfortable experience.

“I am not at all somebody who tells people that when they come to the theater they have to dress in a certain way, act in a certain way, sit quietly for three hours and then go home,” Cullom said.

Part of what makes Cullom such a unique fit for the CEO position is not just his extensive performing arts experience, but also his dedication to exploring the future of the field.

“I’ve been obsessed for quite awhile about the idea of what is the next generation of the performing arts space. Theater is inherently a Roman and a Greek and a Victorian art form, and the spaces that we built for the last 500 years support that sort of performance,” he said.

Cullom envisions the integration of entertainment technology, like virtual reality, into the space, not just to improve the audience’s experience but also to help the center stick around for decades or more.

His goal is for the Tateuichi Center to be “the best, most technologically advanced theater in the world when it opens and to have the capacity to remain that way for the foreseeable future.”

“A performing arts center has got to be a 100-year building. It’s not something that you build and take down in 10 years,” he added.

Tateuchi Center

Although the plans for the center had already been drawn up before Cullom was hired, he said he will be looking over everything before construction starts. “I’m really looking forward to working closely with the architects, working closely with the construction company, the contractors, on shaping what this building is. I take a very active role in that. I do not let an architect tell me to sit over there while they do their work,” he said.

As for a timeline, Cullom said construction will likely begin before the end of the next fiscal year, which starts in July. Fundraising for the project has already begun — $127 million of the initial $195 million goal has been raised to date. Come fall, the center will announce a countdown to breaking ground and an updated fundraising goal.

Despite the understandable buzz around the soon-to-be-built Tateuchi Center, Cullom was adamant to point out that the building itself is really only a portion of what the organization behind it is all about.

“We are an active arts and arts education cultivation organization for the Eastside. We are going to start working in these areas actively before this building gets opened,” he said. “The building will be open and will be a wonderful step along the way, but it’s not the beginning or the end of what it is that we’re doing.”