It happened, as it typically does, after a count of three. The shovels hit the dirt, cameras clicked and people applauded. It happened in the fashion of most ceremonial groundbreakings.
But this was no ordinary groundbreaking. It was more than that.
It was Pittsburg State University signaling its “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 Pittsburg State University Center for the Arts, a $30 million facility that will serve as one of the Midwest’s premiere venues for educational and recreational music, theater and all things arts.
“It’s often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us,” President Steve Scott said. “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 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.
Plans to build a new performance hall began even before Carney Hall was razed, but those plans took on life five years ago when an anonymous donor committed $10 million to the project.
“This person’s anonymous gift ignited the artistic passions of our alumni, students and friends,” Scott said.
“In essence, that single gift made us believe we could get this done.”
It also ignited a series of other donations, including a $7 million pledge in student fees over the next 20 years from PSU students.
“This begs the question,” SGA President Lara Ismert said. “Why would students, many of whom will not be here when this center opens, pledge their support for a new Center for the Arts? 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 of its forms.”
Generous donors continue to come forward to support the project, and Executive Director of University Development Kathleen Flannery said more opportunities to give are available.
“This celebration is but the first step toward reaching our goal of becoming the regional cultural center for the arts,” Flannery said. “We are so grateful to the many donors who have made gifts that enabled us to break ground, but our fundraising efforts are not complete. For those who would like to support this historic project but have not yet made a gift, there is still time.”
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Tim Emert praised PSU for its commitment to the arts.
“Today’s groundbreaking is a strong statement that the arts are alive and thriving in this beautiful corner of Kansas,” Emert said. “On behalf of the Kansas Board of Regents, I offer my congratulations to those who made today’s celebration possible. Job well done.”
Emert, who also serves as president and a board member of the William Inge Festival Foundation, talked about the importance of the arts in education.
“They help develop communications skills, strengthen character and by their very nature,
encourage critical thinking,” Emert said. “This is why it is so important that universities and communities continue to invest in the arts.”
The event concluded with officials, who represented the campus community, donors, and those involved in the actual construction of the building, turning spades of dirt.
Turning spades of a dream come true.