The acoustics are so good inside the Center for the Performing Arts (CPA) Concert Hall that senior music education major Tyler Sutton has to describe it in visual terms.

Think of your standard high school auditorium like a child’s finger-painting, he said. The Concert Hall is a Monet. “It’s that much of a difference,” said Sutton, who’s performed inside the 650-seat Concert Hall more than a dozen times.

The $19.8 million CPA, which also houses the 500-seat Theatre, opened 11 years ago. The high-tech venue was built after students supported a 1996 fee referendum. It was an immediate game-changer for the College of Fine Arts.

Now the college is focused on building a new fine arts complex, with the state earlier this year announcing $54 million in funding. Illinois State has a world-class performance space with the CPA, but lacks the top-notch instructional and rehearsal space to match, said Brian Gawor, who served as the college’s director of development for four years. He knows it will take more than just state dollars to build the improved facilities.

The spaces needed are more like high-tech, well-equipped science labs than traditional classrooms—and that can be expensive. “Private support will be crucial for establishing this new fine arts complex as a premier arts education facility for generations to come,” Gawor said.

The stage for such support has already been set with the CPA, as well as the new University Galleries’ primary exhibition space opening soon in the Uptown Station. Today, the CPA Theatre hosts six productions annually as the primary performance space for the School of Theatre and Dance, featuring state-of-the-art technology such as a hydraulic orchestra lift, mechanical fly system with a 73-foot fly loft, and an in-house sound board.

The Concert Hall, perhaps best known for the “Music for the Holidays” shows, hosts around 60 performances a year. It is also home to an electronic organ, donated by Harriet (Gove) ’55, M.S.E. ’57, and Phares O’Daffer ’55, M.S.E. ’56. Private giving has made a big impact elsewhere in the CPA, including an ongoing seat campaign that kicked off with construction.

“That was a great way for people to get involved in making the Center for the Performing Arts work—and happen,” said Pete Guither, assistant dean for the College of Fine Arts.

Illinois State uses the CPA year-round. It’s home to summer’s Illinois Shakespeare Festival when it’s too hot or stormy to perform outdoors. It’s not uncommon to stumble across a stage combat class practicing in the spacious lobby.

But before a performance or exhibit can open, students need fully functional classrooms, labs, and work spaces.

“All that hard work is happening during the week, in these smaller spaces,” Guither said. “But none of the spaces we’re using were designed for the ways we’re using them.”

For example, there’s no rehearsal space available that’s as wide as the CPA Theatre stage. Stage managers tape off a floor at 80 or 90 percent of scale, which throws off blocking.

Senior theatre major Kyle McClevey has performed twice in the CPA’s Theatre, and praises the professional space. But Illinois State lacks the smaller spaces for students to work on material, McClevey said. He is president of Theatre of Ted student organization, which is working on raising money to ensure student groups have their own space in the new complex.

It will be home to students across the college’s majors—art, arts technology, theatre, dance, and music. Right now, music students are in multiple campus buildings. Students often wait for a practice room. It’s difficult to find a recital space, meaning students sometimes move them to off-campus churches.

Currently space is such a premium that music classes are held in Cook Hall. Having everyone under one roof could lead to some interesting cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“This new complex will function as an intellectual community for fine arts,” Guither said.

The complex is in the beginning part of the design phase. Support the project at or by contacting Joy Hutchcraft at (309) 438-8041 or