At first glance, Zoellner Arts Center looks as it did 25 years ago, when it was built with an ambitious mission to unify the creative arts on the Lehigh campus, enhance the role of the arts in education at Lehigh, elevate Lehigh’s standing as a research university, and strengthen the cultural life of the Lehigh Valley. But on closer look, there are subtle signs that something momentous is happening.
Outside, near the entrance, new flags boldly announce the arts programs being offered—Zoellner is home to the music and theatre departments, as well as Lehigh University Art Galleries and the Presenting Series. One flag proclaims the impact Zoellner and the arts have had on Lehigh for 25 years. Ground to ceiling window clings display colorful images of this season’s diverse performances. A new outdoor monitor teases the upcoming entertainment.
Inside, the Zoellner lobby has a new interactive floor sponsored by Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital that invites visitors to be creatively playful. Season brochures are available in both Spanish and English. And in Baker Hall, the building’s 1,000-seat centerpiece, new house and stage lighting, new carpeting and hundreds of seats reupholstered from light purple to a stunning blue signal exciting things to come. Diamond Theater has new carpeting and seats as well.
And zipping up and down Zoellner’s three floors, from office to office and one performance space to another, is its new executive director, Mark Fitzgerald Wilson, who, since arriving at Lehigh in July 2020, has been working to propel Zoellner forward.
Zoellner is celebrating its 25th milestone anniversary and looking, with enthusiasm and confidence, toward many more years of improving lives through the arts.
Wilson and his team have put together an anniversary season that both reflects on the impact Zoellner has had on the academic and surrounding community and provides a window into the future. The new season celebrates the legacy of individuals and families whose vision and generosity helped establish a center for the arts at Lehigh. Five Cornerstone events honor the impact of the Zoellner, Baker, Diamond, Fowler and Ulrich families in turning the dream of Zoellner into a reality.
“It’s a way for us to show our gratitude to the community and to all of those who helped bring Zoellner into existence,” says Wilson. “We’re bringing back some wonderful world class artists, as well as artists who really connect to the community.”
Zoellner was a game changer for Lehigh when it was built in 1997, creating a powerful invitation to students interested in and engaged in the arts, says Robert Flowers, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Zoellner transformed the type of institution we are, and it also transformed our relationship with the community,” says Flowers, calling it the “gateway to campus.”
He acknowledged the hard work of many individuals that made Zoellner successful from the start, including its first artistic director Deborah Sackarakis, who retired in August 2019. “We have always had exceptional leadership, and I am very excited about the opportunities for the future.”