Joe Firman doesn’t think he’s going too far when he describes one of the newest performance venues in the region as “awe-inspiring.”

“I know that every time I walk through the front door of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, that’s how I feel,” said Firman, who was named director of the venue when it opened in December 2014. 

“Every curve and every angle within this building is designed for the performers and the audience.”

Built in the heart of Pittsburg State University’s campus, it has become a premiere destination, both in terms of the quality of programming it offers patrons and the experiences it provides to students pursuing careers in music, theater, art, broadcasting, and dance.

Students like music education major Devon Ellicott of Olathe, Kansas, who has performed with the PSU Wind Ensemble and the Southeast Kansas Symphony in the center’s Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall for the past seven semesters.

“To me, the Bicknell Center means an opportunity to succeed,” he said. “Being able to perform and record in a world class facility has not only motivated me to become a better musician, but has redefined performing and doing what I love.” 

And, students like multimedia communication major Caleb Wuthnow, of Newton, Kansas, who last year was given the chance to record, edit, and broadcast a production in the center’s Dotty and Bill Miller Theatre when the pandemic put a halt to live audiences.

“I think it will be great on my résumé, and I think it shows that not only are we a very good department as far as getting hands on, but we’re adaptable and innovative,” he said.


rainbow over bicknell center
bicknell center interior

Any given day, students like Ellicott and Wuthnow can be found throughout the center’s state-of-the-art rooms rehearsing, building sets, designing costumes, creating marketing, and preparing audio and visual technology.  

Any given week, patrons can choose from several options. One recent weekend in October offered so many, some had a hard time choosing: there was a theatrical comedy, a Diwali celebration by the Indian Student Association, a concert by an internationally known pianist and composer, an art exhibit in the gallery, and a wind ensemble concert.

Patron Kathy Stuckey sometimes has to pinch herself to come to terms with such a venue being a mile from her home.

It’s where she has crossed things off her bucket list, like getting to hear former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice give a keynote address as part of the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series. 

And, it’s where she and her husband, Douglas, have been wowed by the performances of hit groups like Postmodern Jukebox and Uptown. 

Her daughter, Maggie, drove in from a few hours away to see the Broadway tour of “42nd Street,” and Kathy will never forget a special night of seeing the Broadway tour of “Cinderella” with her dad.

“Our extended family has enjoyed so many performances and guest lectures there, and we feel incredibly lucky to have such a facility in our hometown,” she said.

While it has attracted such A-listers as a former president, a former first lady, and an NFL legend, it’s also a place that has served as an elegant backdrop for life’s milestone moments: a wedding on stage. Prom photos on the central staircase. A venue for high school students to compete in music festivals.

Firman sums it up for patrons and performers alike:

“This is where memories are made.”