Western Carolina University announced Friday, June 3, that John W. Bardo’s name will be permanently affixed to its Fine and Performing Arts Center in recognition of the retiring chancellor’s efforts to make the $30 million, 122,000-squarefoot facility a reality.
Announcement of the honor was made during the WCU Board of Trustees quarterly meeting, following action to name the facility the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center during a special called meeting of the board in April.
Steve Warren, board chair, said the trustees decided to name the building for Bardo in appreciation of his successful efforts to dramatically 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 in an emotional meeting.
“What a ride it has been during my eight years on the board, and for the past 16 years under – would anyone deny – one of the most visionary academic leaders in the nation,” he said. “What he has done is to transform the spirit of the campus. Because of everything that John and Deborah Bardo have done, here is the magic: Everything we have ever wanted for this university is now within reach.”
Obviously moved during his final board meeting as chancellor, Bardo thanked board members both current and past for their support during his tenure, as well as the faculty, staff and administrators with whom he has worked. “At the end of the day, Western Carolina University is not about buildings. It’s not about mountains. The university is about the people who are here,” he said.
“These 16 years represent one-quarter of my life. This is not something you do for a few years and then you go do something else. This was about trying to make a difference in the lives of people. That’s why I took the job in the first place, and that’s why I stayed in it as long as I did,” Bardo said. “The bottom line is, this is a great school, and its best days are ahead of it.”
Shortly after his arrival as WCU chancellor in July 1995, Bardo made the construction of a showcase for the fine and performing arts one of his administration’s top priorities, calling the building a cornerstone in the university’s “Plan for Excellence.”
Bardo advocated for the arts complex in part because of the role it could play in enhancing regional economic development for Western North Carolina by attracting more visitors searching for cultural tourism activities.
“When you look at this region, one of the serious problems we have is a lack of destinations,” he said in March 2001, when the university broke ground for the facility. “We have the capacity in our arts programs and the kinds of activities that arts programs spawn to create a true destination at WCU. When you look at what cultural tourists want, it’s the same thing that we need for our students – it’s events, it’s activities, it’s enlightenment, it’s enrichment. And the arts can provide those things.”
In promoting 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.
The center, which has become a signature building on the Cullowhee campus, was the largest among 16 projects at WCU funded through a $3.1 billion higher education bond package approved by N.C. voters, and it was the first in a total of $98.4 million in construction and renovation projects made possible by the statewide referendum in November 2000.
Now known as the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, the facility includes classrooms, studios, galleries and support space for students majoring in the arts and humanities, a 1,000-seat performance hall, and the 10,000- square-foot Fine Art Museum. The center also consolidates all of WCU’s fine and performing arts programs into a single home.
The building’s art wing opened in the fall of 2004, and the performance hall was christened in October 2005 with a black-tie gala and sold-out performance by comedian and talk-show host Jay Leno.
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, which comprises a main gallery and three auxiliary spaces, have included work by everyone from internationally known artists to WCU students and faculty to local school children. Its permanent collection now contains more than 1,200 pieces.
Designed by Gund Partnership, an award-winning professional practice located in Cambridge, Mass., the center features numerous Cherokee-inspired design elements in recognition of Cullowhee’s location on the site of early Cherokee settlements. In the main atrium, the tile floor design of a seven-pointed star represents the seven Cherokee clans. Bilingual signage throughout the facility uses English and the Cherokee syllabary, developed by Sequoyah to give his people their first written language.
Bardo, who guided Western Carolina through a period of unprecedented growth in student enrollment, campus construction and academic stature during 16 years as the institution’s 10th chief executive officer, announced in October his plans to leave his position as chancellor at the end of June and return to the faculty.
In addition to the fine arts building, under Bardo’s leadership Western Carolina has constructed or made major additions to 14 buildings, including five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology. The university expanded its student union facility, launched women’s soccer and softball programs, and renovated every athletics facility on campus, including the addition of west-side stands to WCU’s football stadium. During Bardo’s tenure, WCU has seen student enrollment grow from 6,500 to more than 9,400 today.
David O. Belcher, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock since 2003, will become WCU chancellor July 1.