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On April 1, Auburn University broke ground on a new performing arts center. Instead of hardhats and shovels, the groundbreaking was marked by a symbolic lighting of the “ghost light” — a traditional single bulb kept burning overnight on stages across the world.

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The world-class venue, scheduled to open in 2019, will feature touring Broadway productions; opera, dance, orchestra, and symphony performances; and student and faculty music and theater performances. The center includes a 1,200-seat scalable performance hall, an open lobby, and a porch and lawn that will serve as an additional performance venue, with 17,000 square feet of open space for outdoor performances, community festivals, and other celebrations. The future center will be located on South College Street, directly opposite the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. Its proximity to the museum creates a new cultural arts district for the university, community, and region.

Performing Arts Center rendering

Actor and 1974 Auburn graduate Michael O’Neill (Dallas Buyers Club, The Unit, Grey’s Anatomy) commented after the ceremony about why a performing arts center is so important to Auburn University.

“Our community, alumni, town, and especially our students, are going to have an opportunity to be exposed to something special,” he said. “We have great character and great talent here at Auburn, and this center will showcase that.”

Khari Allen Lee, an accomplished saxophonist and 2002 Auburn University music education graduate, grew up in Auburn and is now a faculty member at the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. He performed “Music of the Night” at the groundbreaking ceremony and spoke about the importance of this space to the community.

“To be able to come back home, to come full circle, as we embark on building this monument to the arts — and to the artists — is truly indescribable,” he said. “These spaces that we are looking at building will be constant reminders of our greatness, individually and in our families, as well as the greatness of our community, of our human history.”

Construction of the center is made possible through a $25 million lead gift from 1957 graduates John and Rosemary Brown. The gift was announced as part of an overall $57 million commitment, the largest in university history, in support of Because This is Auburn — A Campaign for Auburn University.

“We hope this can attract world-class leaders in the performing arts and in culture,” John said.

It was also announced at the ceremony that the Auburn City Council voted unanimously to give $1.5 million to support construction of the new center. The gift will support the city’s community theater program and will name the lawn and porch area, pending approval by the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

In referencing the city’s gift, Rosemary Brown noted the importance of the center being a space that serves both the university and the community.

“The collaboration of the university and the city is critical,” she said.

Mike DeMaioribus, vice president pro tem of the Auburn University Board of Trustees, stressed that the new performing arts center will be a bright light for Auburn.

“Our campus will be enlivened by this performing arts center,” he said. “Its works will inspire dialogue as well as creativity. And Auburn will reach its goal of becoming a destination university for creative thinkers, performers, scholars, and artists throughout the country and the world.”

Curtains open for official performances in 2019. If you would like to be updated on news, information, and patron opportunities, please click here to subscribe to the performing arts center e-mail list.