Arts Education

The History of a Regional Institution: The John W. Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center

WCU Fine Art Museum at Bardo Arts Center. Photo courtesy of WCU Photography Services

By Emma Castleberry

Western North Carolina University and the WNC region as a whole gained an impressive arts institution in the year 2005, when the doors of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center opened. Operating under the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts on the university’s campus, Bardo Arts Center (BAC) was founded to serve as a cultural and artistic hub for the community. Physically, the space is impressive, with a 1,000-seat performance hall and a studio black-box style theatre. BAC is also home to the WCU Fine Art Museum, featuring 10,000 square feet of gallery space and a collection of 1,800 objects of modern and contemporary art.

WCU faculty member Joan Falconer Byrd curated seven exhibitions highlighting North Carolina studio glass artists between 1974 and 1995, for which many of the artists donated works to the university. Up until the opening of the WCU Fine Art Museum, the university’s contemporary art exhibitions were housed in the Belk Gallery and the Chelsea Gallery. Both galleries dissolved when the WCU Fine Art Museum opened its doors and the new museum assumed management of the collection.

Denise Drury Homewood, now executive director of BAC, started working at BAC in 2010 as curator of the museum. “I’ve always been interested in and attracted to arts institutions with a strong commitment to their audiences,” she says of her decision to start a career at BAC. “My vision is to spark that artistic curiosity in audiences and create meaningful engagement with works of art, performances, artists and scholars both inside and outside Bardo Arts Center.”

In its 15-year history, BAC has lived up to its ambitious mission to engage the community across all artistic disciplines. The Performance Hall produces music, theatre, dance and film events, and also serves as a host for events organized by WCU’s School of Music and School of Stage and Screen. Its hallowed stage has hosted musical icons like the Vienna Boys Choir, the Tao Drummers of Japan, Urban Bush Women and the Steep Canyon Rangers, as well as impressive speakers such as Loretta Lynch, Tony Kushner and David Sedaris.

“Bardo Arts Center programming both celebrates and deepens our understanding of what it means to be human,” says Drury Homewood. “The WCU Fine Art Museum’s strategic collecting and preservation of important works of art including contemporary Native American art, particularly work by Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian artists, as well as North Carolina studio glass has proven critical for continued and future research.”

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