COLUMBIA — The home of Missouri's flagship public university prides itself on a vibrant arts scene. Less talked about is what local boosters call a glaring omission: a campus performing arts center.
The project has been called a campus priority for the better part of a decade. In 2004, school leaders unveiled a planned "arts village" that included a privately owned hotel and convention center as well as a new performance space. A tepid response from state lawmakers helped scuttle that idea.
Proponents say the $100 million project is still a priority, despite the economic recession. They're counting on private donations to fuel the effort this time.
For now, instrumental music students will continue rehearsing in a converted cafeteria. Choral groups still rely on an old dance studio in a former campus gym. And the School of Music keeps using five different buildings scattered across campus. Its main location is nearly 50 years old.
"It's not just a frill," said music school director Robert Shay, who joined the Missouri faculty in 2008 from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. "In a real sense, we don't have the educational spaces we need."
The latest plan calls for a 1,000-seat concert hall and 350-seat recital hall. The five-story performing arts center would be located at the corner of Hitt Street and University Avenue — a move that would also benefit the art and theater departments. The existing Fine Arts Building would be renovated and expanded to include more gallery and studio space.
The project is part of a larger redevelopment effort with the city and Stephens College that aims to better blend the campus with its surroundings.
To that end, the performing arts center would also be available for public events and community groups not affiliated with the university, according to Shay.
"It would see a lot of use," he said.
Most prominent musical and theatrical performances on campus are in Jesse Auditorium, a 1,700-seat venue in the main administration building, which was built in 1893. But Shay said the auditorium's acoustics are less than ideal for more intimate events and prevent symphonic musicians from even hearing one another on stage.
Shay says the Missouri Theatre is also inadequate for the school's needs.
"We don't have a proper concert hall really anywhere in Columbia," he said.
For inspiration, Shay and others look east to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. That venue has a 1,625 seat performance hall lauded on its Web site for a "warm European opera house feel" as well as a 300-seat black-box theater.