Lovers of art and entertainment at Western Carolina are no longer able to visit the Fine and Performing Arts Center to enjoy the shows that have been staged there since its opening in October 2005 with a black-tie gala featuring comedian Jay Leno. Not to worry, friends of the arts, the building has not disappeared. It simply has a new name – the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.
The university’s Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to honor WCU’s recently retired chancellor by permanently affixing his name to the center in recognition of Bardo’s efforts to make the $30 million, 122,000-square-foot facility a reality. The action, announced at an emotional board meeting in June, left Bardo flabbergasted. “Having anything named for me was really not on my radar,” he said. “It came as a total surprise. My first reaction was surprise and gratitude. My second was that I must be getting old if something is named after me.”
Steve Warren ’80, then board chair, said the trustees decided to rename the building in appreciation of Bardo’s successful efforts to improve the university’s academic reputation, the quality of its programs, and its role as a center for the arts and economic development for Western North Carolina. The first major step in the process was the creation of the Fine and Performing Arts Center as a centerpiece of a major campus overhaul, Warren said.
“We considered a number of ways to appropriately honor the significant body of work that Chancellor Bardo had achieved during his remarkable tenure. In the final analysis, it really wasn’t a hard choice,” he said. “From the moment Chancellor Bardo set foot on campus, he spoke about how a first-rate fine arts center could be the mechanism to marry the vibrant community of Jackson and surrounding counties to this jewel of a campus that we call Western Carolina University. He pursued that vision relentlessly, and while he was the first in line to give credit to others for its existence, everyone knew its genesis was his. His vision became reality: the community has embraced the center, and in remarkable ways the campus has returned that enthusiasm in full measure.”
In seeking support for the center, Bardo said the arts, like intercollegiate athletics, play a significant role in the public’s perception of colleges and universities and serve as a “front porch” for the entire institution. Since its grand opening, the building has been visited by tens of thousands of people attending events ranging from national acts such as the Atlanta Ballet, the Smothers Brothers and Garrison Keillor to WCU student theatrical and musical productions. Exhibits at the museum have included work by everyone from internationally known artists to WCU students and faculty to local schoolchildren. Its permanent collection contains more than 1,200 pieces.