The campus arts center is an important part of the arts culture at a university. In time and dollars spent, and in impressions made, these buildings, education centers for an entire community of aspiring professionals, make a statement about the pride a school takes in its young performers. For students majoring in the performing arts, the right setting can make a valuable difference in nurturing developing talent and ambition. The following is a list of arts centers at American universities that possess great functional beauty and inspirational qualities.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
25. Covenant Fine Arts Center, Calvin College
Long hailed as an acoustical marvel, the Covernant FAC at Calvin College underwent extensive renovations in 2010 to continue serving the school and local arts community. The updates were done in keeping with Prairie School principles and added 40,000 square feet of space, including a new art gallery and more seats to the auditorium, which boasts distinct, starry sky lighting.
24. Performing Arts Center, Francis Marion University
The Performing Arts Center of Frances Marion University is located in downtown Florence, in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. The 61,000 square foot Center provides many services that help to strengthen the community, striving to provide culturally diverse performances to its audience. The exterior is done in Winnsboro granite with Georgia White Cherokee marble insets.
23. Alys Stephens Center, University of Alabama Birmingham
The Alys Stephens Center at Alabama, Birmingham works to promote the arts in a variety of formats, serving as a venue for live performances and as an educational center. Besides being home to the University’s theatre department, the center plays host to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. The Center is perfectly suited to any live performance, with its smallest space being a highly technical black box theatre, and its largest a 1,350 seat concert hall, whose most noticeable design feature is a wall and ceiling covered in custom acoustical panels that can be tuned to the performance of the day.
22. The Skirball Center, New York University
With its location in legendary Greenwich Village, the Skirball Center at NYU, with the help of local businesses, plays a key role in promoting live arts performances and education. One of the key missions of the Center, as per NYU’s role “in and of the world”, is to reflect the international nature of its urban home by presenting a wide variety of cultural voices in a slew of different languages.
21. Forbes Center, James Madison University
The Forbes Center at James Madison University houses the School of Theatre and Dance and the School of Music, and showcases work from the School of Art and Art History. Part of the historic JMU Quad, it includes five separate venues, connected with a stunning floor to ceiling glass lobby, sprawling over 175,000 square feet. In an effort to promote local projects, the Forbes Center cosponsors The Circle of Excellence in the Arts Awards, recognizing individual artists and organizations in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
20. Auditorium Theatre, Roosevelt University
While most arts centers on our list are contained in college campuses, the converse is true for Chicago’s Auditorium Building, which plays host to the majority of classes at Roosevelt University. The building itself opened in 1889 and remains one of the most noteworthy designs from architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. In 1946 it was saved from demolition by the University, until the proper renovations could be made nearly twenty years later. A technique called “compression and expansion” was employed by the theatre, which used especially low ceilings in the entrances in order to dramatize the audience’s reaction to the auditorium’s six story, glittering ceiling.
19. Reynolds Center, University of Oklahoma
The Reynolds Center located in Norman is one of the most historic buildings in Oklahoma. The building’s main hall is Oklahoma’s only European style performance space, which maintains a traditional look from its build in 1918 and has been equipped with state of the art technology in recent years. Its mammoth proscenium arches and vintage seating add the flair of past generations to performances from OU students and world famous artists alike.
18. Hylton Center, George Mason University
The Hylton Center located in the city of Manassas, Virginia at George Mason University is the central hub of arts in the community. The center’s Merchant Hall seats 1,123 and has a 100 foot stage. The Didlake Grand Foyer, which can be used for receptions, is a two story lobby with a full glass front and the Buchanan Partners Art Gallery, which houses exhibits from both local and national artists. With it’s dazzling architecture, the Hylton Center is one of the must see attractions at GMU.
17. Ferguson Center, Christopher Newport University
The Ferguson Center at Christopher Newport University in Virginia serves as a regional leader of cultural development through its advocacy and implementation of arts education workshops and programs. The outstanding architectural design was handled by the firm founded by I.M. Pei, and its 1700 seat concert hall is so well engineered that on stage performers can be heard from anywhere in the hall without a microphone. Tony Bennett went gaga over it during a 2004 performance, saying “They don’t make theatres like this anymore!”
16. Goodhart Hall, Bryn Mawr College
Goodhart Hall at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia was built in 1928 and has maintained a look of classical beauty through recent renovations. The campus has a variety of programs; the performing arts series offers workshops many that are free to the public promoting arts awareness, a creative writing series featuring readings from national and local writers of short stories and poetry, and even open mic nights where all students can read their own work, or perform spoken word. The center is really a meeting place that brings people of all backgrounds together.
15. Richard Fisher Center, Bard College
The Richard Fisher for the performing arts at Bard College helps to bring artists from all over to the region of the Hudson Valley. The Fisher Center boasts perhaps one of the most striking exterior designs of any arts center, nay, any building in the country. Its strange metal construction draws geothermal power for heating and cooling, enabling the Fisher Center to conduct standard operations free of fossil fuels. Built by Frank Gehry and featuring acoustical designs from the great Yasuhisa Toyota, the Fisher Center has been called “[possibly] the best small concert hall in the United States” by The New Yorker.
14. Merle Reskin Theatre, Depaul University
The Merle Reskin Theatre at DePaul University in Chicago has been around for over 100 years. Originally called the Blackstone, it was privately owned and leased, most recently by the Shubert Brothers, until the late 1980s when it was offered to DePaul. Thanks to a donation from the Reskin family in 1992, the six story theatre done in the French Renaissance style lives on, to the delight of DePaul Theatre students and fans.
13. Gaertner Center, Sam Houston State University
The Gaertner Center at Sam Houston State University opened in 2010, and acts as a meeting space for creative minds from both the college and the community. Between its world class concert hall, recital hall, dance studio and practice rooms, the space covers a total 90,000 square feet. Besides the beautifully clean woodwork of the auditorium, this center is unique for its collaboration with consulting firms such as Art + Artisans which help commission public art for space. This allows for a lobby decorated with works of art, adding to the overall charm of the facility.
12. Setnor Auditorium, Syracuse University
Setnor Auditorium, a subset of Crouse College at Syracuse University, offers many concerts from students, as well as local and touring artists. The auditorium went through a renovation in 1998, with donations from the Setnor family. The interior of the auditorium is done in the Romanesque style and features a 70 foot wooden ceiling, adding splendor and resonance to the concert hall. For an unforgettable sensory indulgence, attend a concert on a sunny afternoon, as natural light pours through the large stained glass windows.
11. Debartolo Center, University of Notre Dame
The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center truly embodies the attributes of the University of Notre Dame, which prides itself on being a world class institution that embraces a broad liberal arts spectrum. Dedicated to the proposition that the human spirit needs to be nurtured on all levels, this majestic center started to provide its performing arts service to the community in September of 2004. Since then, the center has been a leader in the performing arts world as an acclaimed venue for dance, music and theater, as well as the lauded classic 100 film series.
10. Gallagher-Bluedorn Center, University of Northern Iowa
The Gallagher-Bluedorn Center at the University of Northern Iowa opened in 2000, and is includes three distinct halls as well as a soaring glass wall in the lobby. The Great Hall, which seats up to 1,680, is equipped with broadcasting, high quality recording, and all the state of the art amenities required to house a full scale Broadway production. The GBPAC is also home to Davis Hall, a 225-seat flexible rehearsal and recital hall, as well as Jebe Hall, home to a $500,000, 38 rank tracker organ built for the center by Wolff & Assoc. of Laval, Canada.
9. Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University
The Visual and Performing Arts Center is the base of studies for Theatre, Music, and Visual Arts students, and home to live performances and concerts on the campus of Western Connecticut State University. Its three wings are separated by a lobby featuring a bridge which appears to float above stunning maple floors. The studio theater has a flexible stage that can be set as an oval, or round shape, or as a square, while the main stage theater has more of a traditional setup, and both have the latest in audio/visual technology. This 130,000 square foot beauty was finished just a few months ago and quickly earned LEED silver certification.
8. Performing Arts Center, Soka University
The Soka Performing Arts Center is located in Aliso Viejo, CA. The wooded design of the performance space is both beautiful and functional, and comes from the same acoustic designer as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Bard College’s Fisher Center. In addition to providing a premier center for the performance of dance, music and theatre, this building is designed with the environment in mind. The LEED certified center includes solar panels which provide 15% of its energy as well as roofs comprised of vegetated matter.
7. Wold Center, Lynn University
The Wold Center at Lynn University located in the Boca Raton area in south Florida is one of the newest facilities in regards to college campuses, and local communities supporting the arts. The center features state of the art acoustics, and excellent lighting, so it is a solid venue for live performance art, whether it is music or theater. The venue seats 750, and hosts performances from student groups and local and national artists.
6. Schwartz Center, Emory University
Students of dance, live theatre, and music at Emory University in Atlanta call the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center home. This 90,000 square foot expanse features smart classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and a dance studio with the only Harlequin floor in Atlanta. The masterpiece of the Center is the Emerson Concert Hall, which houses a 3,605 pipe organ cased in cherry wood. Renowned acousticians Kirkegaard and Associates helped turn the phonic designs of the Hall from philosophical fragments into an actual, beautiful and functional concert space.
5. Priem Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, New York, is known for its scientific research and attracting the best and brightest students. Being that the school also sees the value of performing arts, it’s only fitting that it boasts one of the most striking and architecturally innovative art centers. The Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, named after Curtis R. Priem, is a global mecca for showcasing technology as well as the arts and science exhibits. Our Hypothesis? Influences of this 217,000 square foot work of art finished in 2008 will be seen in the building of new arts centers for generations to come.
4. Murchison Center, University of North Texas
One of the premier campus performing art centers is the Murchison Center Performing Arts Center located on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton. The center provides quality and meaningful entertainment that includes not only the students who are studying at this campus but members from the outlying community and professional artists. The uniquely beautiful pentagons that adorn the theatre’s ceiling inspire any audience member to give the designer a high five of their own.
3. Green Center, Sonoma State University
The Green Center, home to the performing arts program at Sonoma State University, has a breathtaking auditorium, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall. It opened in 2012 as one of the best acoustical settings in the world. Its 1,400 handcrafted seats are made of European steamed beech wood and designed to be acoustically neutral whether or not they are occupied. On one of California’s many fair weather days, the back wall can be retracted and opens to a beautifully landscaped and terraced lawn.
2. Cutler Majestic Theatre, Emerson College
The Cutler Majestic Theatre is one of the more historical buildings to make our list, designed by John Galen Howard in the late 1800s, making it the second oldest theatre in Boston. Howard was a student of both MIT and the Beaux Arts School in Paris, and as such the Cutler combines Rococo décor with functional quality. Howard added many bold features to his design of the classical masterpiece; as wall decorations there are sculptures instead of murals, the ceiling is done with a gold latticework with grape clusters, and to accent the Cutler’s tall columns and arches and stained glass facade, Howard called on the state of the art technology of the time: the electric light bulb.
1. Performing Arts Center, California Polytechnic State University
The campus of California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly is located in San Luis Obispo, California. Its Performing Arts Center is comprised of four specific areas, a classroom, two smaller performance spaces, and the piece of resistance, the breathtaking Sidney Harman Hall (pictured). Suspended just to the side of the stage is the Forbes Pipe Organ, a remarkable instrument conceived in 1985 and made possible twenty years later by a gift from Bert and Candace Forbes. Its construction spared no expense, and its nearly 3000 pipes and 20 tons of tin and lead produce a pipe organ sound as pure and powerful as any in the world.