By Alison Baumgartner
Before the Lincoln Center opened in 1978, arts and culture in Fort Collins was a bit hit or miss. Local groups performed less often in front of smaller audiences in places not always suited to the art they performed. Access to larger more professional touring productions was almost nonexistent.
“Some individuals view Fort Collins as the capital of boredom, where the most exciting annual event is the return of students in the fall,” wrote the RamPage in 1980. These thoughts were echoed by Shelton Stanhill, the director of cultural programs during the 70s at CSU in The Coloradoan. “There has not been a tradition of active participation in the arts in this town,” Stanhill said.
In 1978, The Lincoln Center transformed arts and culture in Fort Collins giving local groups a place to call home and touring companies a place to include as a scheduled stop. Every year The Lincoln Center continues to strive to make arts and culture more inclusive and accessible to the Fort Collins community and beyond. A lot has changed in the last 40 years, but what hasn’t changed is our commitment to deliver the finest in art, culture and entertainment in the region.
What started as Fort Collins High School in 1903 built by prolific Fort Collins architect, Montezuma Fuller, became the Fort Collins Junior High in 1925. In the 1930s, it took the name Lincoln Junior High. In 1976, the building began a transformation which utilized parts of the old junior high. If you look closely, you can see hints of the old architecture today. While the performance hall and lobby were added as completely new spaces, the Magnolia Theater, Columbine Room, Canyon West Room and dressing rooms were carved from the original school auditorium, gymnasium, and locker rooms.
The building’s transition from a Junior High to a cultural center was made possible by visionaries like Mayor Karl Carson, Lila B. Morgan, Frank Johnson and many others. The citizens of Fort Collins voted to fund $2.2 million (the equivalent of 8.4 million today) of the project through the Designing Tomorrow Today (DT2) initiative and was backed by community leaders like Mayor Carson, Buford Plemmons, Ray Chamberlian, Bob Everitt, Charles Patchen, Donald Webber who created the Community Foundation to help raise an additional $300,000 for the project.
Despite community support, there were many who contended the Lincoln Center was a “white elephant” and a burden to the community. It took very little time for The Lincoln Center to prove them wrong.
In 1979, the number of season package holders had to be limited to make single tickets available for those who only wanted to see one show. Matinees were added for sold out shows. The rental spaces were overbooked and there was a struggle for reservations even a year out.
“The acoustics are so good that letters have been received from touring companies which have been here, favorably comparing The Lincoln Center’s acoustics to those in much larger cities” raved The Coloradoan in 1980.
Such was the success that a good-natured prankster gifted The Lincoln Center with two white elephants with The Lincoln Center logo painted on their backs to poke fun at the skeptics. (These elephants are on currently on display as part of The Lincoln Center’s 40th-anniversary retrospective exhibition.)
Cities with a flourishing artistic and cultural environment are the ones that generate strong overall economic growth. From the first performances of the Fort Collins Symphony and OpenStage Theatre, arts and culture in Fort Collins has definitely expanded and it continues to grow stronger with each passing year.
Through The Lincoln Center, the City of Fort Collins will continue their strong history of supporting arts and culture to create a dynamic, unique and economically healthy community.
As The Lincoln Center celebrates 40 years, we look forward to the wonder and magic that the next 40 holds!
1978: Population of Fort Collins was around 50,000.
2018: Population of Fort Collins is around 150,000.
1978: Minimum wage in Colorado was $2.65.
2018: Minimum wage in Colorado is $10.20
1978: The LC presented 10 shows.
2018: The LC presented 30 shows.
1978: The small theatre was named the Mini-theatre
2018: The smaller theater is named the Magnolia Theatre.
1978: Volunteers donated 4,887 hours of their time.
2018: Volunteers donated 14,406 hours of their time.
1978: Four spaces available for rental.
2018: Seven spaces available for rental, including the addition of the Terrace and the Rooftop Deck.
1978: Two Art Gallery Exhibitions hosted at the Lincoln Center
2018: Eight Art Gallery Exhibitions hosted at the Lincoln Center