Cowan Fine Arts Center in Tyler, TX

By Joe Morris on April 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Bennett

The Cowan Center brings the world stage right to the heart of Tyler. Located on the campus of The University of Texas at Tyler, this venue offers a wide range of shows and events, with something to suite every age group. Kids will enjoy the center’s Arts in Education Series, which have included performances such as Michael Cooper’s Masked Marvels and Wondertales or The Berenstain Bears in Family Matters.

Adult audienceces can experience all the excitement of the theater through the impressive Broadway series lineup, with hit shows like Fiddler on the Roof, The Color Purple, Mamma Mia!, A Chorus Line, and Legally Blonde. The whole family can gather for concerts by celebrated artists like Wynonna Judd, Gladys Knight, the San Francisco Jazz Collective, and J. D. Crowe & The New South. The Cowan Center also hosts special events throughout the year, with performances from John Lithgow in Stories by Heart and the exciting acrobatics of Cirque Dreams Illumination.

The center also presents the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring special guests such as former President George W. Bush, Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning producer Jon Landau, and former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias.

What Residents Say

"We used to go to Dallas a lot; now we just go now and then.”

That comment always brings a smile to Susan Thomae-Morphew’s face. As director of the R. Don Cowan Fine & Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Tyler, that tells her not only is the Cowan Center doing its job, but that the overall local arts scene is thriving, as well.

“You don’t have to leave town to find national and international touring performers any more,” Thomae-Morphew says. “We know people are going to drive and enjoy other places, but with the art museum, the civic theater, the children’s theater … there’s so much here for a town of less than 100,000 people.”

The Cowan Center opened in 1997 with one performing-arts series, and now it has five that range from Broadway shows to productions for area schools and a distinguished lecture series. The 2,012-seat venue also has become the venue of choice for many local arts organizations, including Ballet Tyler and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

“The venue has enabled things that already existed to grow,” Thomae-Morphew says. “The university has been able to utilize the Cowan Center in so many ways that connect us with the community.”

One group making good use of the facility is the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, which began as the Tyler Symphony Orchestra in 1936. With a production schedule that includes family and outdoor concerts, as well as performances for schoolchildren and a subscription series, the orchestra continues to reach out in as many directions as possible, says Patty Machin, marketing director.

“We do five masterworks concerts a season, which is the hardcore classical music, and then one extra concert that’s usually something a little bit lighter,” Machin says. “And along with our young people’s series we do a series of school con­certs for grades four through six. This year we’ll have more than 5,000 students come through.”

The symphony works with educators to present music that can be tied into classroom learning. In 2008, Gustav Holst’s The Planets will be the featured composition, allowing teachers to integrate the performance into astronomy lessons. Ballet Tyler also performs at the Cowan Center and pro­vides another example of a local company that has done nothing but grow in stature since being founded in 1988.

In addition to a signature spring ballet, the company also has spawned the School of Ballet Tyler, which works with corps dancers and community members alike.

“We do a Christmas ballet every year, which is a compli­mentary performance for the community, and then we have our full production every spring,” says Kym Lanier, artistic director.

For its 20th anniversary, the ballet presented Peter Pan in April 2008. The ballet holds a tea party along with the spring presentation every year, with a theme tied to the production. For Peter Pan, a treasure hunt was held. But whatever the production, the ballet knows it can count on community support.

“The fact that we have a symphony as old as ours, and that the ballet and other organizations and venues in town are doing so well, shows the long-standing support that arts organizations in Tyler have,” Thomae-Morphew says. “The community really supports the arts tremendously.”

Learn more about the arts in Tyler, TX.

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