Wharton Center for Performing Arts

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Wharton Center for Performing Arts
The Wharton Center for Performing Arts is located in East Lansing, Michigan, USA, on the campus of Michigan State University. It is the home of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, which performs 17 concerts annually. The Wharton Center hosts many additional productions throughout the year, such as the MSU Federal Credit Union Broadway at Wharton Center series, concerts by local, national, and international acts, and was host to the final US Presidential Debate before the 1992 election. The facility was designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux. The Center is named for former MSU president, Clifton R. Wharton, Jr..A little more than a year and a half ago (May 19, 2008) ground was broken on the first major expansion and renovation to Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts, since opening its doors in 1982. The 24,000-square-foot (2,200 m 2) addition (another 9,000 square of existing space was renovated) has dramatically ”“ and quite literally ”“ changed the face of Wharton Center with a striking four-story glass and brick façade; an expanded front lobby, box office and gift shop; and family restrooms and additional women’s restrooms. The new addition also includes two new multi-purpose spaces to accommodate educational programs presented by the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center and also serve as reception space and a designated donor lounge in conjunction with public performances presented by Wharton Center. Consolidated administrative offices for the Wharton Center staff were also part of the expansion. “The project allows us to enhance the ‘Wharton Experience’ for patrons and performers with more space and more amenities,” said Mike Brand, Wharton Center’s executive director. “The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Additionally, a new crew room, restrooms, dressing rooms, and other enhancements help address touring production issues backstage. “Previously, when we’d present a mega-hit like Disney’s THE LION KING, the show barely fit,” said Diane Baribeau, Wharton Center’s general manager. “The new spaces and enhancements help solidify our reputation among producers and performers, as well as with our patrons.” Of the $18.5 million cost for improvements, $7.5 million came from the university while $11 million is to be raised from private donations. To date, $7 million has been gifted from individuals and businesses to support the project, which reopened its doors on October 10, 2009. “This project wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of our university leadership, MSU alumni, and the greater community,” Brand said. “Although we still have dollars to raise, we understand the economic challenges people are having. We’re confident that, when things turn around, the community will step forward.” During the 1970s, MSU President Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., and his wife Dolores described the arts as a humanizing, unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural, social, economic and geographic divisions. Their desire to create a world-class performing arts center for the MSU community and the residents of Michigan became a reality with the opening of Wharton Center for Performing Arts. “Wharton Center is a very special place,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “The Whartons understood in a fundamental way that arts, creativity, the cultural aspects of a university that affect one’s spirit and one’s soul were very important and had to be recognized in the same way that a science complex had to be recognized as an integral part of the university. You have to celebrate arts and culture in the same way you would celebrate a terrific scientific discovery.” Since opening its doors, Wharton Center has become Michigan’s largest and most diverse presenter of performing arts entertainment and education programs - a community gather space for shared experiences that enrich lives and strengthen the value of the arts in everyday life. “Michigan State University is a premier institution offering superb opportunities for individual development,” said Dr. Wharton. “And the Wharton Center is one of MSU’s major instruments for awakening joy in creative expression. Dolores and I have always considered the Center a vital part of the Michigan State academic community.” After tour of the enhanced facility, Dolores Wharton reminisced to a gathering of the Wharton Center staff, “When we began the conceptual push for this project in the 1970s, we never dreamed that it would become the exciting center which it is today. Now, Clif and I fervently applaud President Simon and Michael Brand for achieving this next step in the Center’s dynamic development.” From the best of touring Broadway shows such as upcoming productions of A Chorus Line, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, and a three-week engagement of The Phantom of the Opera, to the superstars and rising stars of performing arts including the Emerson String Quartet and jazz vocalist Esperanza Spalding, Wharton Center presents an impressive line-up of entertainment in four theatres across the MSU campus, as well as in venues, classrooms and community centers throughout the state. Earlier this year, Wharton Center ranked in the top 20 among international venues of its size, based on mid-year reports for ticket sales. Pollstar Magazine, the industry source for concert and tour information, ranked Wharton Center’s Cobb Great Hall #19 among similarly sized venues, based on tickets sold between January 2009 and June 2009. Venues Today, a leading publication covering live music, arts and sports in entertainment facilities around the world, ranked Wharton Center #11 basing combined tickets sold from October 2008 to May 2009 in all four theatres operated by Wharton Center: Cobb Great Hall, Pasant Theatre, MSU Concert Auditorium and Fairchild Theatre. Even more impressive, the rankings in both publications only included performances presented by Wharton Center, and did not include local and educational productions, such as the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, MSU Department of Theatre, and MSU College of Music, all of which present programs in Wharton Center venues. “This is something the MSU community can be very proud of,” said Brand. “Wharton Center and MSU continue to prove we’re a major player in the world of performing arts entertainment. The rankings send a powerful message to show producers and promoters that Wharton Center is the place to be.” The “Wharton Experience” is more than what occurs between the curtain rising and the final standing ovation. Now in its second full year of operation, the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity at Wharton Center integrates the arts and academics, and presents innovative activities that take Wharton Center into the community. “Wharton Center is playing a major role in how the arts are integrated into the lives of our residents, especially young people,” said Brand. “Its one thing to see a world-renowned performer on stage, but it’s another experience entirely when you understand the creative process behind the performance and interact directly with professional artists in one-on-one and group settings.” Dozens of school performances integrate performing arts into classroom curriculum. Professional development programs like Kennedy Center Partners in Education help educators learn to use the arts as a teaching tool. Unique programs like Take It From The Top, a series of interactive workshops taught by Broadway professionals, allow participants of all ages to learn from the pros. These programs, and many others, blend the arts and education into meaningful experiences for thousands of participants each year, including more than 30,000 school children. “Take It From The Top was an amazing experience for me,” said Hayley Mulcrone, a recent workshop participant. “It was so nice to get to see and work with real Broadway actors and actresses. When I left here, I felt so much more confident about my skills, and I felt like I knew more than when I came in, which was really important.” Creative collaborations on campus and in the community, including residencies with acclaimed artists and arts organizations such as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada, allow professional performers to serve a dual role as teaching artists. These innovative programs integrate the creative process into all areas of study and interest, not just the arts. Additional artist residencies at Wharton Center for the 2009-2010 season include the innovative classical ensemble The Ahn Trio, River North Chicago Dance Company, storyteller David Gonzalez, modern dance company Happendance, and others. Wharton Center doesn’t limit its creative endeavors to the MSU campus. Its mission is more expansive and inclusive than the confines of campus and the mid-Michigan community. Wharton Center has a solid reputation as a leading resource for renowned arts entertainment and education programs, and collaborative partnerships throughout the state are vital to achieving its vision. “It’s about building partnerships and not simply deciding what the Wharton Center or MSU think is best, but rather working with the community to decide what we collectively think is best,” Simon said. Unique partnerships are already in place in communities like Traverse City (Dennos Museum, Interlochen Arts Academy, Traverse City Area Public Schools) and most recently in west Michigan (see adjacent article). “We’re taking the best of MSU and Wharton Center, and ‘taking it on the road’,” Brand said. “We fully embrace our role as a statewide cultural resource.” The performances on the stages of Wharton Center and the programs presents throughout the community also serve as a cultural anchor for the region’s quality of life and a cog in Michigan’s economic engine. Wharton Center, and performing arts in general, is essential to the quality of life and community vibrancy helping reshape Michigan for the 21st century. “Arts and culture and a facility like Wharton Center go a long way in creating a sense of place,” said Tim Daman, President and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Being able to market Wharton Center as a key and integral part of a cultural economic development strategy is critical to attracting young, creative, knowledge workers - the next generation of entrepreneurs.” All of this would not be possible without a committed base of supporters who understand the value of performing arts in their lives and in their community. As a non-profit performing arts center, nearly all of Wharton Center’s operating funds are derived from private dollars in the form of sponsorships, donations, and ticket sales. Additionally, more than 350 individuals volunteer their time and talents. Wharton Center is above all, a community-based, community-supported cultural resource for the MSU community and the people of Michigan. “The great support we have from our donors, sponsors, and patrons means that the Wharton Center can continue to have these big dreams,” Simon said.