The Center for the Performing Arts provides a context, through artistic connections, to the human experience. By bringing artists and audiences together we spark discovery of passion, inspiration, and inner truths. We are a motivator for creative thinking and examination of our relationship with the world.
Enriching lives through inspiring experiences
We believe artistic distinction and exceptional experiences are the cornerstones of the Center for the Performing Arts and are integral to our position of national leadership.
We value everyone who benefits from and contributes to the Center for the Performing Arts. We take pride in fostering an environment of mutual respect, teamwork, and high ethical standards in which everyone’s involvement is honored, supported, and appreciated.
We provide our constituencies and partners with a consistently high level of support, access, and opportunities ensuring the greatest possible inclusiveness, diversity, and enrichment for those we serve.
We seek and promote innovative, provocative, and risk-taking ideas and creative approaches across our organization.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State embeds the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do. Recent and persistent acts of racial injustice have renewed our resolve to make Penn State a more welcoming, inclusive, and anti-racist place through our work connecting the community to the performing arts. Acts of creation are essential for helping us relate to, empathize with, and better understand the world around us and the people in it.
We believe Black lives matter. Through sustained and meaningful effort, the Center for the Performing Arts will engage, educate, present, and continue to embrace ongoing and difficult conversations. Collectively and individually, we are committed to take action against bias, racism, and discrimination. The Center for the Performing Arts will continue to be a safe and brave place for building empathy, dialogue, listening, and respect in order to contribute to the healing process.
Toward that end, the Center for the Performing Arts is planning a variety of programs designed to center Black artists in the coming season, as well as other action steps aimed at helping us reach our goals in this arena.
The Fierce Urgency Festival, a Center for the Performing Arts partnership with musician and educator Michael Mwenso, will feature:
- Meeting the Moment with Michael Mwenso, a series of talks between Mwenso and other Black artists, delivered virtually;
- An engagement each semester with Mwenso and The Shakes, a Harlem-based band offering international perspectives to Penn State students in selected courses and clubs, plus the community;
- A live spring semester 2022 performance by, and extensive engagement with, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, which will perform What Problem?, a work that deconstructs and explores racism.
The Center for the Performing Arts will engage its volunteer organizations, including the Community Advisory Council, in supporting its stated actions.
The Center for the Performing Arts will participate in a national task force assembled by Major University Presenters to examine best practices for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion through the performing arts.
The Center for the Performing Arts will continue to require the ongoing professional development of its staff members and associated personnel to address inherent bias and systemic racism.
Under the inspired leadership of Albert W. Christ-Janer, first director (1956–1958) of Penn State's School of the Arts, the Center for the Performing Arts began as the Artists Series in September 1957. With a grant from the Penn State Board of Trustees and with the enthusiastic support of students, faculty, and administration, an appointed committee (including individuals from various disciplines) initiated the series as an extension of the education program.
Nina Brown, the first director (1957–1985) of the Artists Series, saw that the program's mission strived to enrich the lives of students and community members with programs for both the novice and the knowledgeable. Those programs included everything from traditional to experimental and fledgling to famous.
In 1961, Penn State began inviting two or three well-known persons to speak each year. The Lecture Series (now known as the Distinguished Speaker Series) became part of the Artists Series and welcomed speakers including politicians, educators, and artists.
Housed in Schwab Auditorium and later Pine Cottage, the Artists Series presented the majority of its programs in Schwab, with larger orchestras, musicals, and some dance presentations in Recreation Building (Rec Hall). In 1974, Penn State opened the doors to its new University Auditorium, which was renamed Milton S. Eisenhower Auditorium in 1977. The Artists Series moved the majority of its performances to the new venue, which allowed for the expansion of its programs. Those new programs included touring Broadway musicals, additional family shows, and expanded educational activities.
In 1985, the Artists Series moved the majority of its administrative, marketing, ticketing, and development from Pine Cottage to Eisenhower (where all offices are now). During that same year, the Artists Series merged with Auditorium Management (which included production services, house management, parking, and ticketing) to create the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
In the beginning, funding for the program came from the University. Several years later, prior to the opening of Eisenhower, the program began to support itself through ticket sales. The program today seeks funding through ticket sales, development, grants, and other sources.
Ever-changing and growing, the Center for the Performing Arts stands as one of Pennsylvania's major cultural resources and continues to be a nationally recognized commissioner of artistic works.
Community Advisory Council
The Center for the Performing Arts Community Advisory Council is dedicated to strengthening the relationship between the center and the community. The council achieves this objective through a range of activities in support of the programs and performances at the center. The members of the council, who generously share their time and talents, are:
Jennifer Bailey, chair
JoAnne Maslany Westerhaus
Mary Jane Wild