Press "Enter" to skip to content

The impact of an arts center

Dr. Kent Tingey, Idaho State University’s vice president for university advancement, stands outside ISU’s Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello.


Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

One of the nation’s most prestigious performing arts centers attracting top musicians and artists from throughout the world can be found in Pocatello – of all places.

Not many people would consider Idaho a cultural mecca, but Idaho State University’s $35 million L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center ranks among the best venues for concerts and performances anywhere.

The majestic Stephens Center prominently occupies nearly 17 acres atop Bartz Hill overlooking the ISU campus and the Portneuf Valley. Many Idahoans consider the Stephens Center one of the Gem State’s many crown cultural jewels.

“It’s made an unbelievable impact on the community and the state,” said Dr. Kent Tingey, ISU’s vice president for university advancement, estimating that economic impact in multi millions of dollars.

In 1998, Thelma Stephens, widow of L.E. Stephens, a potato industry pioneer, gave ISU $10 million as seed money for the project. The Stephenses were close friends of former ISU athletics director Milton “Dubby” Holt after whom ISU’s Holt Arena is named. She died in September 2006 at the age of 98.

Former ISU President Richard Bowen and Tingey helped spearhead a $152.5 million capital campaign to fund a variety of ISU projects, including the center’s construction, which began in June 2002. It was the largest fund-raising campaign in the history of Idaho higher education.

The 123,000 square foot Stephens Center’s highest point is its 83-foot-tall rotunda. Its electrical wiring totals one million feet or 189 miles. About 280,000 bricks were used in its construction. Two of its acoustic panels weigh 36,000 pounds each.

The Joseph C. and Chery H. Jensen Grand Concert Hall boasts 13,890 square feet and 1,200 seats; the Beverly B. Bistline Thrust Theatre, 8,212 square feet and 450 seats; the James E. and Beverly Rogers Black Box Theatre, 3,400 sq. ft. and 230 seats.

The Stephens Center’s first performance was “Man of LaMancha” in October 2004 in the Bistline Theatre. Its grand concert hall was inaugurated in April 2005 by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Others who have performed there include Carole King, Roger Williams, the Utah Symphony, Golden Dragon Acrobats, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Harlem Gospel Choir, Vienna Boys Choir, Peter Cetera, Celtic Tenors and several top military bands.

“We’ve had incredible people come to us and ask to perform here. Many, many artists have come because they have heard of the quality of our acoustics. They don’t need amplification,” Tingey said. “This has brought people to the state who otherwise would not have come. Many students and faculty members are here because of the performing arts center.”

Building Foreman Bill Stanton said the Stephens Center hosts up to 400 events a year and is designed for three additional expansions.

Mark Mendiola is a writer based in Pocatello.

Share on Facebook