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Commentary on the Center for Performing Arts - WIU President Jack Thomas

May 9, 2014

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Commentary on the Center for Performing Arts

As the 11th president of Western Illinois University, I am thrilled that the Center for Performing Arts is becoming a reality for the University, the community and the region. On April 23, 2014, Gov. Pat Quinn joined our campus community and made a public announcement that he was releasing the funds for the Center for Performing Arts. We commend Gov. Quinn and the legislature for making the funds possible for this project.

Our new Center for Performing Arts will be a 130,000-square-foot facility, which includes a 1,400-seat proscenium theatre auditorium with two balconies, a 250-seat thrust theatre and a 150-seat studio theatre. The facility also will house theatre, dance and jazz rehearsal studios to fulfill the academic mission of the University. This state-of-the-art facility will be the first building constructed on our Macomb campus with public funds in nearly 40 years, and we hope that appropriations for other capital projects at Western Illinois University will soon follow.

In 1899, the Illinois Legislature selected Macomb as the location for a new university. Sherman Hall, our first building was constructed on our campus in 1902, and remained the only building on our campus until 1914. This magnificent and iconic building is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. As I peer into the future, I envision the wonderful educational, social, cultural and historical events, which will take place in the Center for Performing Arts, much like they did 112 years ago in Sherman Hall. I believe that one century later (if not sooner), our new Center for Performing Arts will also be listed on the historical register.

This facility and the programs, theatrical events, and musical concerts that will be held are further evidence that Western Illinois University is taking bold steps toward the future. The Center for Performing Arts will assist us in carrying out our mission and holding true to our University's core values: academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth, and social responsibility. The center also will support the academic mission and programs in the College of Fine Arts and Communication, as well as serve as a cultural and performing arts destination for the campus community, the City of Macomb and the region.

There are tangible and intangible benefits to having this remarkable facility in west central Illinois. This facility and the creative industries associated offer numerous benefits to the state, regional and local economies by the potential investments in the arts and culture. This facility and the events hosted there will assist in promoting local community development and regional tourism. We look forward to a continued partnership with the City of Macomb and neighboring communities to improve livability for its citizens and create economic development opportunities to boost the economy. In addition to all of the tangible benefits for our students, faculty, staff, and our university as a whole, there are three benefits that will help our surrounding region. The center will enhance the existing businesses and the growth of the community. It will provide an enhanced quality of life for our citizens and enrich local amenities. This facility could also take a leading and important role in attracting young professionals to the City of Macomb.

The events that will take place in the facility will create jobs and provide greater collaboration for the town and gown partnership. The arts are an important complement to community development. The Center for Performing Arts at Western Illinois University will provide construction-related jobs, and after the facility is complete, it will attract a more skilled workforce and expand demographic trends. The center will also generate business at local retail establishments, hotels and restaurants when audiences travel to Macomb to attend performances, plays and other cultural events. The economies in Arkansas, Massachusetts and North Carolina have been enhanced after creative enterprises were established in their regions.

We must embrace and value the arts. The arts are a universal language that conjure up a "can do" spirit. The arts are an integral part of civilization. The arts can often provide a commentary on society. The arts can provide relevant and insightful points of view on societal needs and their impact. Through the arts, music can soothe souls, and visual art can calm fears. Through the arts, dance can inspire minds, and theatre can move hearts. The Center for Performing Arts at Western Illinois University will assist all of us in becoming better people. It will allow us to engage in this universal language.

Jack Thomas, Ph.D.
President of Western Illinois University

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Office of University Relations