Still cheeringNov 6, 2013 By Steven R. Peck
The Robert A. Peck Arts Center marks its 30th birthday in style
Longtime Central Wyoming College music professor Bob Hussa did a good and interesting thing Tuesday night as he welcomed the crowd at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center to the 30th anniversary concert by the singing group m-pact.
In his role of master of ceremonies, Hussa addressed the audience with a question.
"How many of you have ever performed or participated in an event on this stage? If you have, please stand."
There was a good turnout Tuesday, probably about 500 people. It seemed as if half the crowd stood up.
From grade schoolers to senior citizens, the packed seating area in the big auditorium clearly was filled with people who have taken advantage of the opportunity to use the facility -- both as participants and spectators.
From plays to concerts, from political rallies to public hearings, from college classes to memorial services and much more, the theater on the campus of Central Wyoming College in Riverton is firmly and indelibly established as part of Fremont County's public life.
Few might remember this, but one of the obstacles facing the construction of the arts center --and there were many obstacles --was a prevailing notion that people would not put it to use.
"We don't want a big empty building standing there idle all the time," was an oft-repeated line from the center's opponents.
That notion has been proved wrong -- delightfully and resoundingly so -- over the past 30 years.
This place gets used all the time. The theater, the gallery, the rehearsal halls, the practice rooms, the art studios, dance studio and classrooms have been wonderfully used, and not simply by the college itself. The facility has hosted everything from national touring groups to small private gatherings, always with a steady stream of educational offerings coming through the doors, year-round.
From all walks of life, across all ages, races, and potential social barriers, the Robert A. Peck Arts Center is there for everyone. Decades after construction, it still ranks at the top or very near the top of any list of the finest performing arts facilities in our state, a testament to sound planning that followed the practical dictum "do it right the first time." That's precisely what we did.
Many remain in Fremont County who witnessed the long, sometimes discouraging process that led, finally, to the opening of the arts center during the last week of October and first week of November 1983, when country music entertainer and television star Roy Clark played the first paid performance on Saturday, Nov. 6. All 942 seats were filled (and there were more standing).
The name was changed in the 1990s to reflect the contributions to the arts center by the late Robert A. Peck, publisher of The Ranger and, by then, a Wyoming State Senator. The name change was apt; without Bob Peck, the arts center wouldn't be there.
The big hall is showing some wear now. Thirty years of productive use will do that to a facility. It has been well taken care of, but the time is approaching when some renovation and refurbishment will need to be considered. It will be well worth the investment.
There have been statistical and financial analyses intended to demonstrate the arts center's value to board members, legislators and potential donors. But Bob Hussa's 15-second demonstration proved the point as well as any spreadsheet could.
Stand up if you've used the arts center, he asked. The community has been standing up for 30 years, and we're still on our feet, cheering.
MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office by 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.