On March 1st, 2018 the Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved the site development plan for construction of a New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia. I’m jumping ahead a bit to be naming it after Toby and Hal Orenstein. She, of course, is the founder of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), and has been a seminal figure in the Columbia arts scene for 45 years. What other name could we possibly give this center that will be the new home for Toby’s and CCTA, other performance spaces, and has been a dream of Toby and Hal’s for decades?
Since 1979 Toby Orenstein has been the Artistic Director and owner of Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD.
Toby is also the Founder and Director of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Inc. (CCTA). In 1972, at the invitation of visionary developer James Rouse, she created a school for young people who possessed an interest in the performing arts. A special group of those students, The Young Columbians, were invited to the White House and performed a musical tribute to America during the Bicentennial Year (1976). The Young Columbians still perform today at special programs all over Maryland.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Toby attended New York’s famous High School of Performing Arts and graduated from Columbia University with a split degree in education and theatre. Toby received early inspiration from her work on Eleanor Roosevelt’s All Day Neighborhood School Project, a program designed to motivate and stimulate disaffected, under-privileged, inner-city youth to learn through the arts. She continues to work with students, parents and educators to “inspire with action, creativity and change through the arts.”
Over the years, as a respected leader and advocate for children and the arts, Toby has been regarded as the matriarch of the performing arts in Howard County and all of Maryland receiving countless honors. Among these are Columbian of the Year, Arts Advocate of the Year, Outstanding Woman in the Arts (MD State Department of Education) and is a Helen Hayes Award winner for Outstanding Direction in a Musical for her production of Jekyll and Hyde at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.
She was also selected as a Marylander of Distinction by Maryland Life magazine and was inducted into both Howard County and the State of Maryland’s Woman’s Hall of Fame. Recently she was honored by the Howard County Commission on Disabilities with the Leadership Award for Accessibility.
In operation for 38 years, over 200 productions with over 90 Helen Hayes Award nominations, Toby has so much to be proud of and thankful for but nothing more so then her husband, two children and four grandchildren.
Proposed multi-purpose arts center envisioned as ‘crown jewel’ of Columbia [Excerpts]
by Fatimah Waseem (Columbia Flier) July 27, 2016
A plan to grow the arts on nearly three acres of downtown Columbia is underway as the town chases a vision of becoming a vibrant, urban core.
The concept proposed by Orchard Development Corp. would create the county’s first cultural arts center — a $130 million facility that integrates art organizations under one roof, caters affordable housing to artists and creates a year-round laboratory for artists and art lovers alike.
“This is something that has been a long time coming and will be sort of a crown jewel for downtown Columbia,” said Scott Armiger, president of Orchard Development Corp. “It’s a gateway spot into Columbia or will be when the Crescent [neighborhood] gets developed.”
As proposed, the center would relocate Toby’s Dinner Theatre, the Howard County Arts Council, the Columbia Festival of the Arts and the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. The center, proposed in the Crescent neighborhood, would include a parking garage, a visual arts center, a performing arts space, black box theaters, studios and a cafe.
The proposal fills a gaping void in the arts community, said Toby Orenstein, owner of Toby’s Dinner Theatre and founder of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. “I have three buckets full of plans for centers or for buildings that I was going to use. They’re all in my house,” Orenstein said. “This is the furthest we’ve gotten with this dream. And these are hopes and dreams that have been around for ever and ever and ever.”
Orenstein has run Toby’s for 35 years. Under the proposal, the theater will join other organizations as a tenant in the center.
Artist flats geared for artists who may be part of the center are included in the proposal.
The plans for housing, part of a proposed binding agreement with Columbia’s master developer, Howard Hughes Corp., create 209 [192 in the approved plan] one- and two-bedroom apartments atop the cultural arts center, around 100 of which would be affordable by targeting people who earn about half of the county’s median income of $110,133.
“The plan is to make Columbia a vibrant arts district. The arts are a symbol of that urban lifestyle,” West [Coleen West, Executive Director, Howard County Arts Council] said.
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