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Wharton Center History

Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts has a long history of presenting quality programs. Since opening its doors in 1982, the Center has generated state and national prominence for its success with touring megahits and sold-out sensations, making producers, performers and patrons turn their attention toward mid-Michigan.

Wharton Center is Michigan’s largest performing arts venue with four unique stages (the Cobb Great Hall, Pasant Theatre, MSU Concert Auditorium and Fairchild Theatre) and plenty of things to do and see all season. Wharton Center is proud to bring the best Broadway shows, the finest classical musicians, unrivaled dance companies and an A-list of high profile performers to mid-Michigan.

We are the leading presenting venue among Big 10 institutions and have the largest programming schedule of any independent performing arts center affiliated with a university in the country. Wharton Center is also recognized internationally for our world premier commissions. The Center is fortunate to hire artists to create new works in jazz, dance, and classical music that make a world debut at Wharton Center.

A Vibrant Past

During the 1970s, MSU President Clifton Wharton 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 residents of Michigan became a reality in the fall of 1982.

Since the inaugural performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Wharton Center has become a dynamic and evolving cultural resource. From Broadway blockbusters like Phantom of the Opera, Disney’s THE LION KING, and WICKED to world-renowned orchestras, dance companies, jazz ensembles and more, Wharton Center hosts an impressive line-up of more than 100 performances each season, attracting patrons from throughout the state and region. However, at its core, Wharton Center is more than a space to entertain; it is a place to educate and engage.

Beyond the Stage

Today, Wharton Center is about much more than the performances that grace its stages. Whether it’s the countless programs integrating the arts and academics or the engagement activities that take Wharton Center into the community or unique programs like Seats 4 Kids, a scholarship fund providing tickets to economically-disadvantaged children, a key part of Wharton Center’s mission is to enrich lives and strengthen the value of the arts in everyday life.

“Recent cuts in local, state and national funding have created a void in arts education,” says Michael Brand, Wharton Center’s executive director. “We’re able to help fill that void by integrating the arts into the academic experience and into people’s lives with a diverse array of programs.”

The MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Art and Creativity at Wharton Center provides meaningful, participatory lifelong learning programs both at Wharton Center and throughout the state for audiences of all ages.

The Institute integrates Wharton Center’s education programs such as the Act One Family Series, Jazz Kats – Jazz For Kids and the Young Playwright’s Festival into K-12 curriculum for more than 30,000 children each year as well as expand master classes and lecture demonstrations. Distance learning programs reach students across the state through broadband technology and a series of artist-in-residence programs for students and adult learners.

A Promising Future

According to Brand, all of this would not be possible without the community’s overwhelming support and Michigan State University’s commitment to fulfilling the Center’s mission. The majority of the Center’s funding is derived from corporate sponsorships, private donations, ticket revenues and rental income. “The Center, is above all, a community-based, community supported cultural resource for the people of Michigan,” says Brand.

  • Wharton Center for Performing Arts
  • Michigan State University
  • 750 E. Shaw LN
  • East Lansing, MI
  • PHONE: (517) 432-2000
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