Wharton Center History-The Magic Behind the Sparkle!

Wharton Center History | By Sherry Trautman | Traveling Michigan

The Wharton Center for Performing Arts located in Lansing, Michigan has generated state and national prominence for its touring mega hits and sold-out sensations, as well as commissioning new works by up-and-coming artists.

Their extraordinary shows draw sold-out crowds and numerous programs integrate the arts and academics worlds.  



Since their opening night in 1982, the Wharton Center has rocked the stage with artists like Martina McBride, Bob Dylan, Rain, The Illusionists and Wild Kratts!  Plus, Disney's Aladdin is a showstopper!

But have you ever wondered how it all began?


Martina McBride, Wharton Center, Lansing, MIMartina McBride, Wharton Center, Lansing, MI

The Mystery Behind the Wharton Center History


Before the Wharton Center was even a twinkle in someone's eye, the Michigan State University Auditorium had been the home of performing arts on campus since 1939.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even attended the opening ceremony! 

Originally constructed as a multi-use facility, the space also needed to host college dances, performances, commencements and speakers. 

And so, the idea was born!

In the 1950's, discussions began regarding erecting a dedicated performing arts facility. The project was sidelined until Dr. Clifton R. Wharton Jr. arrived to serve as MSU president from 1970-1978.

Dr. Wharton was instrumental in raising more than $1 million from Michigan State University campus organizations to launch the effort. Such an instrumental part of the Wharton Center History!

The plan was to raise $11 million for the construction; the project ultimately cost $24.6 million!


WOW! How the Wharton Center Grew!


Ground was broken for the new Wharton Center in 1980, during Dr. Cecil Mackey’s tenure as MSU president, with roughly half of the funds for the project secured.

Work had finally begun in earnest! 


Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)


This photo above from 1981, pictures Clifton Wharton and his wife, Dolores.  They were a very important part of the Wharton Center History.

The Wharton's were both very fond of local artists and they worked tirelessly to enhance Michigan State University's cultural landscape.

Clifton and Dolores Wharton traveled around Michigan raising funds for the new Wharton Center, even donating more than $136,000 of their own funds. Amazing, huh!


The Much Anticipated Gala Opening Night at the NEW Wharton Center!

Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)

The Chicago Symphony and Swedish soprano, Birgit Nilsson graced the Cobb Great Hall stage on opening night, September 25, 1982.

The opening night gala performance at the NEW Wharton Center was humming with excitement!

This monument night marked entertainment history! 

After the doors were opened in 1982, the Wharton Center's popularity exploded! The beautiful new Center was a favorite with performance loving fans and dedicated patrons of the arts. 


Even First Lady, Nancy Reagan Took Notice of the Wharton Center! 

Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)

The Wharton Center even drew the attention of beautiful First Lady, Nancy Reagan. 

In 1986, the First Lady presented an award to MSU officials recognizing the Wharton Center's outstanding landscape.  What an honor!

And so, the Wharton Center grew and grew.


The New Wharton Center!

Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)Wharton Center, Lansing, MI, (Photo Provided by the Wharton Center)

Throughout the years, the Wharton Center's popularity grew, as did their programs and hit sold-out shows.  Accordingly, the need to remodel was evident.

So work began once again. 

In 2009, the much-anticipated ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the gorgeous new Wharton Center we enjoy today. How's that for exciting Wharton Center History!


Today's Wharton Center

Today's Wharton Center simply vibrates with excitement as it consistently presents wildly successful Broadway shows, famous musicians, events and programs. 

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Don't you just love Aladdin? (We are super fans here!) We were so giddy to go see the latest movie with Will Smith. It was so AWESOME! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SOOO, imagine my thrill when I found out the Wharton Center in Lansing is presenting the hit Broadway musical December 4 through Sunday, December 15. WHOOT! We will be going December 6 at 8 p.m! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Did you know Aladdin established itself as one of the biggest new blockbusters in recent years, breaking 14 New Amsterdam Theatre house records; worldwide it has welcomed more than 10 million people and grossed over $1 billion? Freakin' awesome! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Photo by Deen van Meer-We were given approval to use by the Wharton Center.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #aladdin #aladdin2019 #aladdinmuscial @whartoncenter #gottaseeit #broadwaymusical #lansing #lansingmichigan #lansingmi #lansingfun #DisneysAladdinWharton #michigantravel #greatlakesstate #michiganstate #travelingmichigan #greatlakesstateofmind #puremittenpride #lovemichigan #michiganarts #performingarts

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