The decades-old dream of a new arts center at Pittsburg State University took a giant leap forward early in 2013 when construction work began on a facility that signals PSU’s “intent to reclaim its rightful place as the cultural center of this region.”
Members of the PSU family came together on February 1 for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, a $33 million facility that will serve as one of the Midwest’s premiere venues for music, theater, art exhibits, lectures and other special events.
The Center for the Arts, which will be located just south of the Weede Physical Education Building on the corner of Homer and Ford streets, will be the university’s first large, on-campus performance venue since Carney Hall closed in 1978.
It will include two performance halls, a grand entrance lobby appropriate for receptions and other gatherings, an art gallery, a workspace for an artist-in-residence, a private reception room, a multiuse rehearsal space for large musical groups, and various technical and support spaces. Future plans call for a garden courtyard/reception area on the south side of building, along Ford Street.
University President Steven A. Scott said that "we are excited about what will happen within the new performance spaces, and we are so appreciative of the many donors and the students who have made it possible for us to move to construction phase of this much needed facility."
The 1,100 seat Performance Hall.
The 250 seat Theatre.
Pittsburg State's early history is filled with stories of famous musicians, performers and lecturers who appeared before packed crowds in the auditorium of Carney Hall. In addition to those from campus and the community, people from throughout the Midwest would travel to Pittsburg to enjoy performances by artists such as violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, the jazz great Duke Ellington, and the St. Louis Symphony in Carney Hall.
Named after the second governor of Kansas, Carney Hall was constructed in 1919 and stood on the same ground as today's distinctive Heckert-Wells Hall. Carney Hall originally housed the Departments of Home Economics, Chemical and Physical Sciences, Biology, and Agriculture.
With an auditorium capable of seating nearly 3,000, Carney Hall also served as the cultural and social hub of the university and the community. Age and deterioration led to it being vacated in 1978 and razed in 1980.
Expanded Performance Space – Ever since the demolition of Carney Hall, PSU has found it challenging to bring performances of national stature to Pittsburg due to the lack of an adequate campus facility. A converted classroom in Grubbs Hall serves as the only theatre space on campus. McCray Recital Hall provides a limited stage area for musical performances and is the only auditorium available on campus.
Centralized location and increased student participation - The lack of a Center for the Arts has made it necessary for most performances to be held at Pittsburg's Memorial Auditorium, which is nearly two miles from PSU's main campus. Although Pittsburg State and the city enjoy a strong working relationship, Memorial Auditorium is a municipal facility and therefore limited in its availability. In addition, Memorial Auditorium does not offer all the capabilities needed to fully support the performance and rehearsal needs of the Department of Music, the theatre productions offered by the Department of Communication, events offered through the Performing Arts and Lecture Series and other special events offered by the university.
Educational Mission – Support and appreciation of music, theatre and the fine arts is essential to Pittsburg State's role as a comprehensive university with a mission to serve its students and its community.
The talent and dedication of our students and faculty is unquestioned. They continue to create incredibly vibrant productions and excel in their academic fields. However, the lack of a dedicated facility naturally diminishes the role that the arts should play on a university campus and creates a continual challenge for the Departments of Music and Communication.
A new Center for the Arts that includes music, theatre and art will provide all PSU students the opportunity to more fully experience a comprehensive education that includes a strong cultural arts component – and make the university more competitive when attracting students.
The new Bicknell Family Center for the Arts will serve as one of the premiere educational and recreational facilities in the Midwest.
This center's special design will allow it to be flexible enough to host artists from throughout the nation. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the university will be an attractive venue for both large-scale productions and intimate solo artists. As a counterpart to the city’s Memorial Auditorium, the additional space will provide our community with even greater accessibility to cultural events – and serve as a catalyst for our community's future economic growth.
In fact, a recent economic impact study estimates the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts will potentially increase retail sales by nearly $20 million over a ten-year period. The same study estimates the center will generate nearly $350,000 worth of city and county sales tax over that same period.
By becoming a part of this project, you're not just helping Pittsburg State University; you're improving life for the residents of southeast Kansas.
(Includes construction jobs, new permanent jobs, and event visitors)
"We are excited about the opportunity to restore this vital dimension of the college experience. The new Bicknell Family Center for the Arts will enhance the university's reputation for excellence, enrich the cultural lives of students, attract new students, and serve as the cultural center for the community and region. It promises to be a spectacular addition to the campus in which the entire community can take pride."
– Robert (BS '55, English) and Sylvia Bailey
"The new Bicknell Family Center for the Arts will directly benefit music, theatre and art majors, but the impact of the new center will go far beyond this select group of students. This Center has the potential to bring a new level of appreciation for culture and the arts, not only to PSU but to the entire Southeast Kansas area."
– Eric Jones, 2012-13 PSU Student Government Association President
"For a number of years, the Music Department has been forced to hold large parts of competitions off campus. The result has been that a majority of the high school participants never set foot on campus thereby missing the opportunity to observe typical collegiate life. Many of our constituent disciplines have had to curtail some activities…PSU needs a fully-functional performance arts center."
– Gene Vollen, Professor and Chair Emeritus; Department of Music
"The arts play an imperative role in the creation of well-rounded citizens, both in developing their sense of community and refining their ability to contribute innovative and imaginative solutions to today's global society.
The Bicknell Family Center for the Arts is an incredible way to animate the arts as a necessity in every individual's education."
– Rhona Shand, Associate Professor and Chairperson; Department of Art
"PSU is quite diverse in what it offers in the realm of performing arts, but quite limited in facilities. The type of (theatre) production that can be mounted becomes limited by the performance space available to the department. Looking at other universities, performing arts centers are abundant and vital to the programs that utilize them. PSU and the community as a whole would benefit from the Center for the Arts."
– Andy Pierce, BA '05, Communication
Pittsburg State University is a world class institution but it is missing an important component—a Center for the Arts on campus. The university has developed plans for a beautiful facility that will serve as a leading cultural center for the four-state region. While meeting the needs of a growing university, the Center for the Arts will bring nationally and internationally recognized lecturers, theatrical and musical touring groups and other cultural events to this area. Such a facility will expand the horizons of not only PSU students, but also for people of all ages in this region.
In order to construct a world-class facility, it is going to take the support of many people, businesses and foundations. Funding from the State of Kansas for such an endeavor is not available at this time. We can make this facility a reality by bringing together people who understand the value of enhancing this region by supporting the arts at Pittsburg State University. We have a good start on this project due to some early donations, but in order to meet our goal it's going to take help from everyone. All other universities in our conference and region have performing arts centers and we’re missing the cultural advantages. Please join us in this effort!
Gene & Rita Bicknell Co-chairs, Campaign for the Center for the Arts Pittsburg State University
It is time for Pittsburg State to once again send a strong message about the importance of the arts in today's world. A Center for the Arts on campus will make it possible for the university to more fully realize its responsibility to enrich the lives of our students and our community.
Current plans show the project costs totaling $30 million. As with nearly all major projects in today's world, it will take the combined efforts of private donors to make this project a reality. Fortunately, a $10 million anonymous gift has already been given in support of this project. It's now time for others to continue this momentum and transform these plans into a reality.
We hope you will participate in this exciting opportunity to create a lasting artistic legacy for our students and our community as we embark upon a new era for the arts at Pittsburg State University.
Dr. Steve Scott Pittsburg State University President
"Every vital society recognizes the importance of the arts to the total health of the community and as an important factor in economic development. It is through the arts that we celebrate, grieve, challenge, and investigate our human existence. The arts feed our hearts and minds. A Center for the Arts would honor and nurture both the individual student learner and the community at large." ~ Cynthia Allan (Professor and Chairperson, Department of Communication)
Now is the time to begin a new era in the arts for our region. The Bicknell Family Center for the Arts will do more than provide a state-of-the-art facility; it will help return Pittsburg State to its proper role as a cultural center for the arts.
Our world has changed since the time of Carney Hall and with state resources no longer available for capital projects, the university must rely on private sources for funding. You have the opportunity to be part of a project that will positively impact PSU and our community for generations to come.
There are a variety of ways to support Pittsburg State University in this exciting effort, including multi-year pledges and naming opportunities. Visit the PSU website to make a gift online. For further information on how you can be a part of this historic effort, contact:
Pittsburg State University Office of University Development 200 Shirk Hall 1701 S. Broadway Pittsburg, KS 66762