By Gary Heisserer,
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The new Shaw Center is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. When you walk into Carol Hall, be prepared to stare in awe at this gorgeous facility. But to focus only on the dazzling beauty of this new building diminishes the value of this historic gift. Yes, the new Shaw Center is stunning, but more importantly, it is a place for creation. And for all of us at Graceland University, it presents us with an extraordinary opportunity.
And so when I think of this wonderful gift from JR and Carol Shaw, I think of how this facility will help us bring more students to Graceland. This has started to happen even before the building has opened. As I’ve taken prospective students through the building during the construction, I have watched their eyes fill with desire to work and play in this space. And once these students are here, they will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the art equipment in state-of-the art facilities, and be better prepared for successful careers because of it.
The new Shaw Center fills us all with pride. I had the pleasure recently to give a tour of the Shaw Center to recent Graceland graduate, Valeria Avina ’12. From her home in Mexico, she stopped by Lamoni on her way up to the University of Iowa, where she will begin her MFA in acting and serve as a teaching assistant. On one hand, she was a little bit sad and jealous that she would not have the opportunity to perform in this space. (I assured her we would welcome her back any time to perform with us again.) But her more dominant reaction was unbridled joy. To say that Valeria expresses her emotions freely is like saying it’s been a little warm this summer in the Midwest. The tears she shed when she saw the new facility were tears of happiness, excitement and opportunity for those fortunate to follow in her footsteps.
Valeria Avina, in the play Almost, Maine
The gift from JR and Carol Shaw is the most generous in Graceland’s history, but it also represents the continuation of their ongoing commitment to the university. I first came to Graceland in 1988 as a young (more or less) theatre professor stunned by the beauty and versatility of the fine arts facilities in this small town in rural, southern Iowa. I was excited because the Shaw Center provided better facilities than the ones we had at the University of Wisconsin, a Big Ten school with more than 40,000 students. I couldn’t wait to start working in the Shaw Center. And now, 24 years later, I can’t wait for the opportunity to bring prospective faculty members to campus and look at their faces while I show them around. We will attract an even higher caliber faculty because this is a place they, too, will want to work.
The transformation of the Shaw Center also provides an opportunity for us to continue to enrich the cultural life of southern Iowa and northern Missouri. Just this year internationally-renowned trumpet soloist Jens Lindemann, actor/writer/director Arliss Howard, famed trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and stunning Canadian vocal soloist Shannon Gaye, and groups such as the Vienna Choir Boys, the Fountain City Brass Band, and the Owen Cox Dance Group are all scheduled to appear in the Shaw Center.
While it is easy to think of the transformed Shaw solely as the home for the visual and performing arts, we must not do so. In addition to being one of the finest concert venues in the Midwest, Carol Hall will also be a classroom for film studies and the most beautiful lecture hall in the region. The Gadets dance team and our Cheer squad will use the new sprung movement dance studio to rehearse and hone their craft. The redesigned Green Room (where performers have traditionally relaxed before curtain time) will be a venue of choice whenever we a need place to meet and discuss. With its cozy furniture and panoramic view, the upper level of the lobby is sure to become a living room for the university. The spacious lobby can host a 250-person dinner event. When we add seating from the JR Theatre, a 450-seat dinner becomes possible. The outdoor amphitheatre will host a diverse array of events sponsored by student organizations and performing arts groups from around the region.
The Shaw project has transformed the look and feel of the entire campus. The expanded structure, along with the new amphitheater, lighting, parking and landscaping unites the campus and synthesizes our rural charm with a modern and elegant aesthetic.
In the last two months I have probably given 30 or more tours of the new Shaw Center. I can feel myself getting more and more excited as we count down the days until it opens. My friends tell me that I never seem as happy, energetic and joyous as I am when I’m talking about the Shaw Center. They are right, and I’d like to share my excitement with you. Come and see for yourself. I’d love to show you around.