Story provided by Jessica Novak, McKnight Center for the Performing Arts
It has been one year since The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, a cutting-edge facility on Oklahoma State University’s campus, raised the curtain on world-class performances in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The 65,000-square-foot space features three state-of-the-art performance venues: a 1,100-seat opera house capable of hosting full orchestras, touring Broadway productions, movies, and more; a 217-seat recital hall sound-engineered for small ensembles; and an outdoor plaza equipped with a 32-foot LED wall and surround-sound speaker system.
All three spaces are designed to create a unique experience for audience members that optimizes sound quality and provides clear sightlines. The intimacy of each venue guarantees no seat is more than 100 feet from the stage, allowing ticket holders to experience their favorite international performing artists in an up close and personal way.
The McKnight Center is the result of a unified vision to create a cultural epicenter in Stillwater. In 2016, Oklahoma State University alumni Billie and Ross McKnight gave $25 million to establish an endowment that would support exceptional programming that would benefit not only the immediate community but also the entire region.
“The McKnight Center’s inaugural year was a dream come true,” Billie and Ross McKnight said. “We enjoyed watching the talent brought to Stillwater and have loved seeing the international arts community embrace Oklahoma State University. People around the world want to come and perform at The McKnight Center, and we cannot wait to see what the future will hold.”
“The McKnights’ gift and vision brought to life our dreams for the performing arts at OSU and in our region,” OSU President Burns Hargis said. “They inspired many others to join a transformation that is delivering incredible learning opportunities for our students and world-class performances for our community. The opening of the magnificent McKnight Center a year ago was truly a night to remember.”
Last year’s grand opening weekend, held Oct. 11-14, 2019, brought more than 5,000 people to Stillwater to witness the first concerts in the new venue, featuring the New York Philharmonic with Broadway star and Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara.
The festivities included sold-out performances (which were simulcast to the plaza where audiences watched free of charge), a residency for OSU’s Greenwood School of Music students comprised of masterclasses with the Philharmonic’s principal musicians, and a Young People’s Concert that provided learning opportunities for first and second graders in the Stillwater Public Schools system.
“Our opening celebration was a true embodiment of our mission,” Marilynn and Carl Thomas Executive Director Mark Blakeman said. “This special milestone incorporated artistic excellence and impactful learning opportunities that go beyond the traditional classroom. We’re committed to transforming our community through shared creative experiences and our very first performances demonstrated to our guests the level of quality they can expect from The McKnight Center.”
The McKnight Center saw sold-out crowds for most performances in its first season. Notable performances included the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, the London-based Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell, and “An American in Paris.” Additionally, the center’s Chamber Music Festival featured Anne-Marie McDermott, Edgar Meyer, Joshua Roman, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
All events included educational components through masterclasses, open rehearsals, Q&A sessions, or special performances. These opportunities were provided free of charge for Stillwater Public Schools students and OSU students.
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused closures throughout Oklahoma, the center adapted by developing digital content, including livestreamed conversations with artists from the 2020-2021 season lineup, which allowed viewers to connect one-on-one with the performers. The center also provided online educational content through its “Center Stage” video series, which features short performances, instructions on how to make simple instruments at home along with tips on how to make music.
The McKnight Center has re-opened for live events in time for its one-year anniversary, implementing health and safety protocols such as socially distanced seating and enhanced sanitation throughout the building. With some exceptions, the 2020-2021 Season has been postponed to January 2021, but the center plans to host more than 60 concerts and private events this fall.
The 2020-2021 season features a roster of artists that is just as impressive as its first. Performances include Canadian Brass, Itzhak Perlman, and Pink Martini, as well as Broadway blockbusters like “STOMP” and “South Pacific.” To view the full season two lineup and for more information about The McKnight Center, visit mcknightcenter.org.