Sometimes it takes a lot to keep a dream alive, BUT IF the dream is big enough and important enough, persistent people can make dreams come true.
On Dec. 7, 2014, more than 1,000 people from the campus and community came together to celebrate the opening of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts on the east side of the campus. The event was both a celebration for the opening of a magnificent facility and a tribute to those who believed in the dream of a new performance center, even in the darkest times.
“Throughout the time I have been president, I have kept a document on my desk that is dated May 1972,” said President Steve Scott. “On that document is a list of six construction projects that then President George Budd hoped to have privately funded. Number six on that list was a center for the performing arts.”

“Your belief in our vision and your investment in this structure have produced an extraordinary outcome that will serve generations to come.”
– PSU President Steve Scott at the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, December 7, 2014.

In the decades since that document was drafted, the campus has seen enormous change. Technology programs were brought together under one enormous roof with the construction of the Kansas Technology Center. Residence halls have been built and renovated, a new student rec center was constructed and a new student health center was built. Carnie Smith Stadium was renovated and expanded to become one of the premier Division II facilities in the country and around the Oval, historic buildings have been modernized and updated.
But even after alumnus and entrepreneur Gene Bicknell made a lead gift in 2008 – the largest in university history – the dream of building a new performance venue seemed distant. More than a few on campus wondered whether the herculean task of raising the $33 million needed for the new facility wasn’t just too big.
Despite occasional setbacks, Scott said, President Budd’s list helped him focus on the project and people like Gene and his wife, Rita, and many others worked to help push it forward. Even the students got involved, voting to commit significant resources for the construction.
At the dedication in December, Scott praised the students and the 636 private donors who have given to the project so far. In addition to Gene and Rita Bicknell, he singled out Linda and Lee Scott and the Walton Family Foundation for two major gifts and also named some of the top donors to the project.
“Your belief in our vision and your investment in this structure have produced an extraordinary outcome that will serve generations to come,” Scott said. “What happens in this building in the days, months, and years ahead will lift spirits, evoke smiles and tears, challenge our views of the world, and strengthen our sense of community.”
When called on to speak, Bicknell used his time to turn attention from himself to the students, alumni and community donors who have supported the project.
“The relationships we have with PSU and this community surpasses one’s imagination,” Bicknell said.
He said the community has a way of achieving goals others might have considered too lofty.
“It amazes me how they (the Pittsburg community) always come together to meet their goals,” Bicknell said. “Whether it’s the YMCA or the United Way or the university, they come together.”
Bicknell said the completed project is even better than he had dreamed it could be.
“In our vision, I never quite conceived it to be this grand,” he said.
The first performance in the Bicknell Center was provided by the University Choirs under the direction of Susan Marchant, who sang Carley Simon’s “Let the River Run.” It was the same song they sang at the groundbreaking ceremony for the building.
Scott quoted a line from the song that he said he found particularly meaningful.
“The line is ‘Let all the dreamers wake the nation,’” Scott said. “I anticipate the Bicknell Center will indeed wake this campus and this community and even at times the nation to the power and importance of the arts, and it will serve as a symbol of inspiration for years to come.” •

What’s in a name?

Throughout the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, various named spaces honor the contributions of donors to a facility that promises to have a profound impact not only on Pittsburg State, but the city and the region.

The Bicknell Family Center for the Arts
The building itself honors lead donor Gene Bicknell, his wife, Rita, and their family. Gene, an alumnus and a lifelong supporter not only of PSU but also of the arts, in general, provided the gift that laid the foundation for the project.
A room near the Art Gallery provides insight into the life and times of Gene Bicknell. A collection of historic memorabilia will help tell his inspirational story of overcoming poverty to build and lead one of the region’s largest corporations.

The Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall
This hall, the heart of the facility, honors Linda & Lee Scott. Lee, a PSU alumnus and brother of PSU President Steve Scott, served as president and CEO of Walmart. The Walton Family Charitable Foundation made a major gift to the project to honor Lee’s years of service.

The Dotty and Bill Miller Theater
This theater was made possible by a gift from the Nancy and Richard Miller family and the Faith and Dick Coleman family in honor of Dotty and Bill Miller. Bill Miller, who died in 2002, began a career in photography in 1939. From those humble beginnings, he built Miller’s Professional Imaging, the largest professional photo lab organization in the U.S. Dotty Miller died in January 2015.

Many other spaces within the center bear the names of individuals, families and corporations who have helped make this dream a reality. In the performance hall, plaques on individual seats recognize donors who have sponsored a seat.

Kathleen Flannery, executive director of the Office of University Development, said there are still important needs to be met for the Bicknell Center and opportunities to be involved. For more information on making a gift, contact the Office of Development at 620-235-4768,

More than just a pretty face

First-time visitors to the Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts are immediately struck by the beauty of the room. What the beauty conceals is function.
The hall is “tuneable” to accommodate almost any kind of performance.

“We went to a lot of trouble in picking colors and shaping the room to make it intimate and to keep it warm. Something I’m proud of is that the acoustics of the room capture that same sense of intimacy and warmth that the architecture itself captures.”

“We designed into it a number of variable acoustic elements,” said Joseph Myers, associate and principal consultant with Kirkegaard Associates out of Chicago. “There are curtains in the upper volume that can increase or reduce the reverberation time. There are curtains at the rear walls that can give more or less sound back to the performers on stage. There are sliding glass fiber panels that can make the sound captured between the side walls a little bit more dense or more transparent, depending on what is needed.”
In older theaters and concert halls, performers must try to adjust to the acoustics of the room, Myers said.
“Our room is able to adjust to the type of music so that the adjustments that a musician makes within a given acoustics within a given concert are small adjustments that he or she can make easily,” Myers said.
Myers described the performance hall as intimate and warm.
“We went to a lot of trouble in picking colors and shaping the room to make it intimate and to keep it warm. Something I’m proud of is that the acoustics of the room capture that same sense of intimacy and warmth that the architecture itself captures.”
Myers said his job takes him to universities and other venues around the country, but he was particularly keen on helping design and tune the Bicknell Center.
“I’m based in Chicago and I grew up outside of Philadelphia, but my mother grew up in Girard,” Myers said. “For her, Pittsburg was the big city. When we were pursuing this project, I wanted it even more than I usually want a nice project like this because I was getting to do the performing arts center for what was once my mother’s hometown.”
Myers said he believes Bicknell Center patrons have a special experience ahead of them.
“They should expect to see a beautiful room. They should expect to hear a performance that sounds really lovely,” Myers said. “I hope it will be a magical experience.”