The Morrison Center continues to thrive and benefit the community despite pandemic setbacks

“Postponed,” “canceled,” “suspended” and “closing” are the words arts organizations have become all too familiar with over the last two years. 

The pandemic put a halt to Morrison Center operations but, with COVID numbers on a downward trend, the Morrison Center has come back with greater purpose.

The Morrison Center has been a staple of the arts in Boise since its opening in 1984. With a new community arts celebration, “let’s arty,” the Morrison Center’s continued support to the community and other arts organizations is unmistakable.  

For the month of March, eight arts organizations are sponsoring a month-long celebration of the arts in Boise through “let’s arty!” with the Morrison Center being a front-runner.

“Let’s arty!” raises visibility for the arts through special events and a collaborative social media campaign. According to a press release, people are encouraged to follow “let’s arty!” on Instagram to learn about events, schedules and special offers. 

The Morrison Center is very involved with the wider community, but it stands on Boise State’s campus as a center for music education. 

According to Director Laura Kendall, there are, generally, “two main buckets” of performing arts centers: standalone theaters and university performing arts centers. The Morrison Center is the latter, surviving off a mix of grant funding and individual donations and ticket sales.

“We’re ‘owned and operated by Boise State University but considered kind of an ‘auxiliary unit’ … We need to be self-sufficient,” Kendall said. “Primarily our funding is mostly earned income. It’s high on the earned income side. Our unearned income is less.”

The Morrison Center is supported by the Morrison Center Endowment Foundation, which was created in 1984 to support the Morrison Center to “assure a stable operating budget.” This foundation also supports local arts groups through grant funding.  

The pandemic put much on hold for the Morrison Center, and there was a need to change and adjust to unfamiliar territory. 

“I will never forget the date of March 11 when this pandemic was declared a pandemic,” Kendall said. “It was extremely stressful and no one had a handbook for [it].” 

Kendall mentioned that during this time, many arts organizations leaned on one another. This was echoed by Laura Reynolds, executive director of Boise Philharmonic (Boise Phil). Boise Phil had to shift and adjust to the pandemic, and luckily the Morrison Center was there to help.

With the help of the Morrison Center, Boise Phil was able to create performances for their “digital stage.” 

“The Morrison Center was really, really critical for us to be able to create those performances for our digital stage. The crew there was super creative and helpful,” Reynolds said. “That’s something that was really cool to see how when we work together we’re able to create something … really meaningful, particularly during that time.” 

Some form of the “Boise Philharmonic” has existed since the late 1800s, according to Reynolds.

“This small, little chamber orchestra evolved and grew … The people in the orchestra are your teachers and other local community members,” Reynolds said. ”When the Morrison Center was built, that was a huge step for the orchestra. [It] helped us continue to grow and expand.”

The Morrison Center is not only a performing arts center, but it is also an educational space for the students at Boise State. 

“We play a role in the community, and we are dedicated to arts education. We’re on a university campus, so we have a lot of initiatives … that are not necessarily revenue-generating, but are vital to our public service,” Kendall said.

Michelle Montanus is a sophomore theater major. Montanus has been going to, and even been a part of, performances at the Morrison Center since childhood, and now most of her classes are held there.

“I’ve been on stage. I’ve been backstage. I’ve been in the audience, and [I’ve] seen it from both sides,” Montanus said. “It’s very familiar ground to me.”

Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

Montanus recounted experiences of performing in a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and helping with costumes on Ballet Idaho’s “The Nutcracker.”

“[There are] standalone pieces, but it’s all like a tower of cards. You all rely on each other. Not just the departments, but each person,” Montanus said of the productions.

The collaboration had already existed before the pandemic, but the pandemic only made that more apparent. 

Kendall, Reynold and Montanus all expressed how after a pandemic the gathering and community that comes from arts performances has become so important. 

“Seeing all of the shows that come through the Morrison Center, we are all coming together to appreciate this two and half-hour show that is not documented, but we are all sharing it,” Montanus said. 
The sentiment was shared by Laura Kendall, who talked about how the Morrison Center had to “rethink” who they were during a pandemic. During the summer of 2021, the Morrison Center was able to do their “Neighborhood Concert Series.”

“We can’t bring people together inside yet, but let’s go outside … Let’s celebrate the neighborhoods who all couldn’t see each other,” Kendall said. “It truly was beautiful. That was a great outcome out of [the pandemic].”

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