The 25 Most Amazing University Performing Arts Centers

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The best university performing arts centers are designed not only for the benefit of those studying the arts but also as a way to help enrich the community of which they’re a part. They act as a window to the larger world of performing arts by staging high-quality productions and attracting top professional talent to teach and perform.

Many centers contain multiple theaters, classrooms, and recital halls that enhance a student’s performing arts education and offer students and the public access to a variety of exceptional events. All these centers provide arts programming with the intention of engaging the local community, and often include lectures, dance performances, concerts, and recitals. The following performing arts centers were chosen for their enduring commitment to arts education as well as their desire to provide exceptional arts programming to the public at the highest levels.

25. Valley Performing Arts Center

California State University, Northridge

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Located just north of Los Angeles in Northridge, California, the Valley Performing Arts Center was opened in 2011 and boasts a state-of-the-art facility that has attracted a number of major theatrical and musical productions. Part of the California State University at Northridge, the Valley Performing Arts Center was designed by HGA Architects and Engineers and functions as an example of energy efficiency and was crafted from sustainably sourced materials. This LEED certified building houses 1700 seats and includes a 230-seat lecture hall, a number of classrooms, and a concert hall. The center offers regular concerts and recitals including Broadway shows, orchestral presentations, and dance, film, and opera performances.

24. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center

University of Notre Dame

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The University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center opened in September of 2004, and offers dance, music, and theater productions to nearly 100,000 patrons yearly. The facility houses five performance venues including a costume and scene shop, a performer’s hall, and the Browning Cinema which presents regular lectures by filmmakers, directors, and producers, including Sean Astin and Tim Robbins. The center’s primary purpose is to facilitate learning and enrich the classroom experience for university students through master classes and guest lectures. The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center also regularly commissions work like theater, music, and dance performances.

23. Shea Center for the Performing Arts

William Paterson University

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Built in 1965, William Paterson University’s Shea Center for the Performing Arts is comprised of a 922-seat theater. Located in Wayne, New Jersey, the facility has a number of educational programs and lecture series including The Distinguished Lecture Series and WP Presents!, which hosts professional artists, musicians, and theater troupes. WP Presents! provides students and the general public with access to a variety of performances and performers including an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, and Curious George, which is part of the Theater for Children with Autism. Broadway icon Harold Prince and Hollywood phenom Al Pacino have participated in The Distinguished Lecture Series, much to the delight of students and members of the community.

22. Davis Performing Arts Center

Georgetown University

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Opened in 2005, the Davis Performing Arts Center is Georgetown University’s first building solely devoted to arts education. Once home to the Ryan Administrations Building, Georgetown University’s first gymnasium, the Davis Performing Arts center offers theater facilities and design studios, and is the home of the university’s Theater and Performance Studies Program. The center is also the home of the 239-seat Gonda Theater and the black box Devine Studio Theater, as well as classrooms and production learning labs.

21. Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts

Emory University

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Located in Atlanta, Georgia at Emory University, the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts was opened in 2003 in an effort to bring creativity to the university and its surrounding community. The center offers a teaching, lecturing, and performance area that include the Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall, a theater lab, dance studio, and the Chace Gallery, which showcase rotating exhibits of staff, faculty, and alumni work. The Flora Glenn Candler Concert Series provides a wide range of traditional and contemporary musical guests and has presented the New York Philharmonic, the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, and celebrated soloist Hilary Hahn. The Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall boasts a 14-ton Opus 45 pipe organ, and the Emory Dance Program and the Emory Dance Company offer regular performances.

20. Moss Performing Arts Center

Colorado Mesa University

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Named for university supporters John and Angie Moss, Colorado Mesa University’s Moss Performing Arts Center has recently undergone a $5.1 million renovation to benefit the university’s theater and music departments. Home to the 600-seat William S. Robinson Theater, a 300-seat recital hall, the Walter Walker reception area, and the Mesa Experimental Theater, the Moss Performing Arts Center offers a variety of entertainment for students, faculty, and community members year-round. The center also houses a design studio and a number of technology classrooms and practice rooms to further educate performing arts students.

19. John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center

Western Carolina University

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Located in Cullowhee, North Carolina, the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center opened in October 2005 with a headlining dedication by Jay Leno of NBC’s The Tonight Show. World-class performers and artists come to the center to offer concerts and theatrical productions to the university and community. A 1,000-seat performance hall provides an excellent venue for concerts and performances, and the center is a place for all art disciplines to come together. Situated along the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center combines a state-of-the-art space with a naturally beautiful setting to promote the arts and arts education throughout the region.

18. Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center

Lynn University

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Known as one of Palm Beach County’s premier performance centers, the Wold Performing Arts Center was dedicated in 2010. The 750-seat theater presents a number of live performances by Lynn University’s theater arts program as well as regular visiting performers. The center’s Schmidt Family Studio hosts a variety of smaller productions, and the facility was designed by renowned architect Herbert S. Newman, who based his design for the facility of the interior structure of a violin.

17. Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts

Cornell University

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Designed by James Stirling of Stirling Wilford Associates of London in 1989, Cornell University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts was based on the design of a classical Italian Villa. The Cornell Dramatic Club, formed in 1909, is one of the oldest university theater groups that continue to present performances today. Home to the Department of Performing and Media Arts, the Schwartz Center hosts performances that include film, dance, and theater productions, and the center houses a costume and prop shop, sound and lighting design studios, rehearsal spaces, and a production suite for editing film.

16. Paul R. Givens Performing Arts Center

University of North Carolina at Pembroke

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Locally known as the GPAC, the Givens Performing Arts Center is a 1600-seat space located on the Pembroke campus of the University of North Carolina. Offering students and community members the opportunity to experience live theater and concert performances year-round, the center is best known for its Annual Performance Series. The Broadway and More Series has showcased Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as well as the Russian National Ballet. Providing engaging theatrical performances for local youth, the On Stage Youth Series has presented favorites like Skippyjon Jones and Dinosaur Train Live! The Givens Performing Arts Center also hosts their popular Distinguished Speaker Series, with past speakers including Bill Nye, Arianna Huffington, and Academy Award nominated actor Rosie Perez.

15. Wharton Center for Performing Arts

Michigan State University

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Envisioned by former Michigan State University president Clifton Wharton and his wife Dolores, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts opened in 1982 with an inaugural performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Currently known as Michigan’s largest performing arts venue, the facility houses four stages including Cobb Great Hall, Pasant Theatre, the MSU Concert Auditorium, and the Fairchild Theater. Showcasing Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera and Disney’s The Lion King, the center also offers classical music concerts and dance performances. The center also commissions a variety of artists to create new projects that include jazz and dance performances.

14. Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center

Pacific University

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Home of Pacific University’s Department of Music, the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center includes McReady Hall, the Burlington Rehearsal Room, and The Pacific Music Library. Known regionally for bringing interesting and innovative performances yearly through their Performing Arts Series, the center has showcased important acts like the Tannahill Weavers, the Vienna Boys Choir, and Ed Asner. McCready Hall offers a 400-seat recital space for music performance, and the center’s piano lab houses 14 Kawai electronic units. The Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center also provides students with nine practice rooms and access to The Pacific Music Library which is located within the main campus library.

13. Hylton Performing Arts Center

George Mason University, Prince William Campus

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The Hylton Performing Arts Center’s mission is to entertain, educate, and enrich the community of Northern Virginia. Offering a rich and diverse number of performances, the Hylton Performing Arts Center covers nearly 85,000 square feet, and houses a variety of performance venues. The 1,100-seat Merchant Hall, an opera house with a 100-foot stage and an orchestra pit, hosts symphonies, dance, theater, and opera performances. The 240-seat Gregory Family Theater offers an open floor plan that suits cabaret and chamber groups. The Hylton Family Series presents theatrical performances like Family Matters: The Musical and the National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China.

12. Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts

Boise State University

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Located along the banks of the Boise River, the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts is one of Idaho’s premier destinations for experiencing the arts. Opened in 1984 with the help of Harry W. Morrison and perpetuated by the work of his widow, Thelma, the Morrison Center has hosted performances by Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, and Josh Groban, The center is also the home of Ballet Idaho and the Boise Philharmonic, and has presented theatrical productions like the Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys.

11. Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts

DePauw University

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Located in Greencastle, Indiana, the Green Center for the Performing Arts is the home of the DePauw School of Music and the DePauw School of Theater. Housed within the center are the Kresge Auditorium, which holds up to 1,400 people and the Thompson Recital Hall, which offers a 220-seat recital space. The Moore Theatre, home to the DePauw Theatre and the DePauw Opera offers seating for 400 and includes a scene construction studio, costume storage, a laundry, and dressing area for performers. The center’s Performing Arts Series brings artists and intellectuals from around the country to deliver lectures and provide workshops for students. Recent performers include singer-songwriter Peter Case, and the Grammy nominated Yuval Ron Ensemble.

10. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

New York University

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Opened in 2003 in the heart of lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is New York University’s first professional performance space. The 860-seat theater offers musical, comedy, and dance performances alongside lectures and university events. Their Big Red Chair Family Series provides child and family friendly shows like Harold and the Purple Crayon and Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train-Live! Intended to engage youngsters and families within the community, the center also spotlights student performances and events, and strives to uphold a strong commitment to performing arts education.

9. Phillippe Performing Arts Center

Indiana Wesleyan University

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Indiana Wesleyan University’s Phillippe Performing Arts Center is located in Marion, Indiana, and is composed of the Phillippe Auditorium, the Baker Recital Hall, Black Box Theater, and a number of classrooms to further arts education at the university. Presenting performances by the IWU Music Division and the IWU Theatre Guild, the center has also sponsored recitals and concerts by Joo Young Kim and the Wind Ensemble and Alumni Band.

8. Robert Howell Brooks Center for the Performing Arts

Clemson University

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South Carolina’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts was dedicated in 1994 with the help of a $2.5 million gift from Clemson alumni Robert Howell Brooks. With over 90,000 square feet of performance space, and a 1,000-seat theater, the center is also the home of a Black Box Theatre and a recital hall. With modern lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system, the facility boasts nearly 75 productions yearly including Broadway productions of Hairspray and Avenue Q. The Lillian and Robert Utsey Music Series has offered nearly 135 free performances in 28 years, and students are given opportunities to work with artists through various workshops including Dr. Paul Buyer’s Steel Drum Workshop.

7. Red Skelton Performing Arts Center

Vincennes University

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Built to preserve the memory of world-renowned American entertainer, artist, writer, clown, and performer, Red Skelton, the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center is the pride of Vincennes University. Born and raised in the city, Skelton’s painting and sculpture fill the walls of the center’s lobby, and his former residence is just a few blocks down the street. Home to an 850-seat theater, a number of classrooms, and a rehearsal space, the center hosts regular productions by students as well as visiting artists and performers. Recent guests include the Texas Tenors, Guitar Fest, and an Evening of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

6. Lied Center for Performing Arts

University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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With a mission to educate, inspire, and entertain, the University of Nebraska’s Lied Center for Performing Arts was constructed in 1986. Part of the Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, the center regularly presents world-renowned artists and entertainers including Wynston Marsalis and the Joffrey Ballet. With the intention of enriching the community through the arts, the center has worked in collaboration with the Nebraska Repertory Theater as well as Yo Yo Ma to bring theater and music to the public and to university students.

5. Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

University of Florida

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Gainesville, Florida is the home of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which has presented performances by a number of established and emerging artists including Tony Bennett and Ray Charles. The 1,700-seat hall and Squiteri Studio Theatre have hosted the Brazilian Music Institute and Beauty and the Beast presented by Pofal Studios. Under the direction of Michael Blachly, the center has become one of the region’s premier venues to see live theater and musical performances.

4.Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center

Idaho State University

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With the help of Thelma E. Stephens and a number of private donors, the Stephens Performing Arts Center at Idaho State University is the crown jewel of Pocatello. Home to the Jensen Grand Concert Hall, the Barbara J. Marshall Rotunda, the Beverly B. Bistline Theatre, and the Rogers Black Box Theatre, the facility offers world-class performances in one of the nation’s most beautiful settings. With a costume design studio and set design shop, as well as classrooms and meeting spaces, the center provides students with the opportunity to experience a professional-level performing arts education. Recent productions include Three Dog Night, Celtic Nights, and an evening with American jazz artist Chris Botti.

3. Weis Center for the Performing Arts

Bucknell University

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Lewisburg, Pennsylvania is home to Bucknell University and the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. Opened in 1988 with the intention of inspiring students and the community, the center offers professional music, theatre and dance performances as well as lectures and presentations for students and the public. The 1,200-seat facility offers superior acoustic and a professional dance floor, and aims to bring culturally diverse presentations to the university. Upcoming free presentations include yoga and live music.

2. Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

University of Maryland

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Named for Clarice Smith, a University of Maryland alumni and former faculty member, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is one of the metropolitan Washington D.C. area’s most dynamic performance spaces. The center hosts residencies and workshops for students and is known regionally for its vibrant programming series that has included the Festival Chamber Music Recital and the Prince George’s Philharmonic. Home to the university’s School of Music and the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center opened its doors in 2001.

1. Joseph A. W. Clayes III Performing Arts Center

California State University Fullerton

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Renamed in 2008 with the support of a generous $5 million donation by Joseph A.W. Claeys III, California State University Fullerton is now the home of a world-class performance space and learning center. The 250-seat James D. Young Theatre provides an area for student dramatic productions and the 800-seat Vaughncille Joseph Meng Concert Hall present guest artists as well as performances by the university’s music ensemble, and the Hallberg Theatre offers a traditional black box performance space with theater in the round seating.