A multi-media marvel

Rooftop trumpets blew a fanfare, confetti was shot from a cannon, a 21-foot tall piece of mirrored art was unveiled, a comely torch singer belted out jazzy tunes and hundreds stood in long lines for free tacos and wine at a gala grand opening for stunning new digs on a sunny Saturday on the Southern Oregon University campus.

A stellar new era was born for the arts on the university’s Ashland campus and, as speakers emphasized, it’s not just a rich playground and academy for theater and broadcasting students and practitioners but also gift for the community.

It ends an era of cramped, dingy, patched-together spaces for theater students and for 50-year old Jefferson Public Radio, which broadcasts its popular mix of classics, rhythm and news from Roseburg to Redding and Klamath Falls to the Coast.

“Faculty, students and staff sacrificed a great deal in the construction,” SOU President Linda Schott told the crowd, “but now we have this gorgeous new facility.”

Schott pointed out the importance of the arts, especially theater, as it’s cozied up to the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, adding, “On numerous occasions parents tell me ‘my child looked at theater in many universities and narrowed it down to NYU and this.’”

David Humphrey, executive director of Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, said, “Theater is a signature program for SOU and this building provides the creative space for students to learn, design, perfect and produce their craft — and for the community, it provides the opportunity to experience their work at its finest.”

Locals toured the newly remodeled Theater Arts Building, an $10 million project, according to an SOU announcement, crowned with a chandelier called “Nebula.” It offers a stage and studio spaces for performance, costumes, lighting, scene design, stage controls, props, theater movement and speech.

Construction bonds approved by the state legislature covered $11.5 million of the overall project coast, with the balance of $1.25 million coming from JPR donors, SOU said.

Crowds packed the halls for a tour of the connected two-story JPR facility, starting with the enclosed “Great Hall” between the theater and radio facilities where they were entertained by the Paul Turnipseed Trio. In the new Steve Nelson Performance Studio, Open Air host Danielle Kelly dazzled with her Jazz Project. The late Nelson, former chair of the JPR Foundation, was instrumental in creation of the complex, which cost $2.75 million. The studio, which just got a new Steinway piano, can open to a spacious grass-and-concrete area where acts can be enjoyed by many.

After half a century with no windows, everyone at JPR demanded them in every possible space in the new quarters, said JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle, adding that the 7,000-square-foot studio opens through big glass doors “and is creating a lot of excitement on campus. It faces out into the community and we can do live broadcasts of every singer that comes through.”

Adorning the building’s courtyard is an impressive public art installation called “Portal,” by Ben Zamora of Seattle, who is known for working with light. Standing on four black steel beams, a pair of cubes play with light. One, made of stainless steel, reflects the sun and surrounding buildings and landscape. The other is filled with LED lights that come on at night, glowing through white plexiglass.

“It’s about creating something that can capture the energy of the buildings and be a beacon, an experience, seeing the surrounding changes that appear in it,” said Zamora. “It will become a landmark that pushes energy forward.”

Community members were unreserved in their appreciation of the new center.

“It’s overwhelming. I’ve never seen such good energy on this campus,” said Michael Bianca. His partner Margie Mee, noted, “It’s beautiful, especially when you compare your old memories of 20 years ago here. It was so full, you couldn’t get in.”

Kelly Weishepl said, “It’s such a welcome change from the old dungeon of Central Hall (the previous JPR home) which was just pasted together from old classrooms. It’s lovely to see so many people from the community here and to see them embrace the change and welcome it as their own.”

Ann DiSalvo said, “It’s a vast improvement for everyone. I’m so glad it’s finished and I look forward to attending theater here. I also notice an improvement in the sound of JPR on air.”

Wine and cheese tasting came from Rogue Creamery, Troon Vineyard, Weisinger Family Winery, Kriselle Cellars and Simple Machine Winery. Gratis Tacos were served to many from the Peruvian Point truck. The complex was designed by TVA Architects of Portland. The afternoon was followed by a gala evening celebration in the theater lobby.

To see more photos, click here.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

(Nov. 15: This story was updated to remove reference to ORW Architecture as designer of the complex and Ausland Group as builders. ORW did preliminary work on project designs; Ausland served as construction manager and general contractor, according to its website.)

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