Morning Sun
  • PSU breaks ground on Center for the Arts

  • The new Pittsburg State Center for the Arts will focus on fine and performing arts. But at the groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, the talk was all about history.

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  • The new Pittsburg State Center for the Arts will focus on fine and performing arts. But at the groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, the talk was all about history.
    “We come together this morning to celebrate a day that we’ve looked forward to for 35 years,” said Kathleen Flannery, executive director of university development. “The loss of Carney Hall to deterioration in 1978 left our campus with a void that some thought we might never fill. As often happens, though, Gorillas find a way.”
    The project has been in the works since at least 1972, when Pittsburg State asked for $4 million from the state to build a new fine and performing arts center. That money didn’t come through.
    In 1978, Carney Hall was condemned before it was razed in 1980. Heckert-Wells Hall, largely housing the arts and sciences, now stands where Carney Hall once did.
    “I remember old Carney Hall and the programs they had. We had major speakers. When [PSU] President [James] Appleberry told me that the foundation of Carney Hall was disintegrating, I knew it was serious, because I thought they would have to tear it down,” said Orville Brill, a former Pittsburg State dean. “I was younger then, and I thought when they tore it down, that they’d build a new one soon. I never thought it’d be 35 years later.”
    Years later, the funding pieces finally fell into place. An anonymous donor kicked off the fundraising on the slightly more than $30 million facility with a donation of $10 million.
    “We would not be here today were it not for the vision and generosity of our lead donor,” said Steve Scott, Pittsburg State President. “This person’s anonymous gift ignited the artistic passions of our alumni, students and friends. In essence, that single gift made us believe we could get this done.”
    Another $7 million donation to the cause was and will be made by the students, who passed a referendum last spring to increase student fees to help fund this and other projects across campus.
    Student Government Association President Lara Ismert noted the famed artists and performers that came through Carney Hall — Duke Ellington, the St. Louis Symphony, Ralph Nader — and said that PSU was once a cultural hub in the region. She said it was clear why students would pledge their support for the project.
    “It’s because we believe in this university and want to see it thrive for the next generation of Gorillas. In order for this to happen, our university must have a dedicated facility where students can learn about and experience art in all its forms,” Ismert said. “The academic benefits are obvious — programs such as theater, orchestra, band, choir, opera and many others will finally have a place to call home. But this center will be so much more. It will improve the university experience for every student on campus and serve as an attraction for the entire region.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Another $5 million for the project was made through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation with support and recommendation from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation on behalf of PSU President Steve Scott’s brother, former Walmart President and CEO H. Lee Scott.
    Steve Scott has had the project on his priority list for some time. In fact, the performing arts center has been a part of every opening faculty meeting address since 2010.
    “It’s often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us,” Scott said Friday. “Never has this been more true than today. There is no doubt, this project is the culmination of 35 years of hard work and the contributions of many, many individuals.”
    The new facility will have two performance halls, a grand entrance lobby, an art gallery, rehearsal space, and vast behind-the-scenes rooms and facilities.
    Pittsburg State had support Friday from the Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Tim Emert.
    “It would have been easy to back away from this project when the economy turned sour,” Emert said. “But where some saw obstacles, Pittsburg State and its supporters saw opportunities. Working hand in hand with private donors, community leaders, faculty and students, this university was able to turn a dream into a reality.”
    During Friday’s ceremony, which had been moved to the nearby Weede Physical Education Building because of cold weather, the PSU Trumpet Ensemble performed and the PSU Choir sang. If all goes according to plan, perhaps by Fall 2014, those same groups will be performing in a more permanent location for the arts.
    It was a lot to take in on Friday for those who had lived and worked a lifetime as plans for the Center for Arts slowly came into existence.
    “I’ve been waiting on this all that time,” said Linda Bush, Pittsburg, who had attended Pittsburg State’s theater program in the 1970s. “My friends, all the ones I graduated with, we’ve been waiting since 1972-1973-1974. I was there when they tore down Carney Hall. I stood on that stage and I picked up a couple of bricks before it was gone. This is a momentous celebration.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.
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