In the 50 years since its opening, the Darte Center has enriched the cultural life of the University campus, the City of Wilkes-Barre and surrounding communities by hosting numerous theatre, music and dance performances, as well as lectures and other important University events.
The Darte Center has helped to shape the lives of the many performing artists who have lived, worked, and performed on its stage, and it stands as a symbol of the University’s ongoing commitment to vibrant programs in the performing arts.
“The continued existence of the Darte Center is a mark of staying power in a way, and it shows that the University is invested in the arts,” Chair of the Division of Performing Arts Steven Thomas said. “It is a wonderful thing that the University did 50 years ago, to create this facility for the arts, and we’re still making art 50 years later.”
During the Great Depression, Dorothy Dickson Darte made a significant contribution to fund the arts programs at Wilkes. She requested anonymity for her efforts, and after her death, what had been called the Wilkes College Center for Performing Arts, was dedicated in her name by former Wilkes University President Eugene S. Farley in 1970.
Designed by Tony-award winning scenic designer Donald Oenslager, the building is both beautiful and practical. The 480-seat auditorium features a 34-foot deep stage with a hydraulic orchestra pit and state-of-the-art lighting and sound.
In the opening dedication on Oct. 26, 1965, former Wilkes University President Eugene S. Farley said he hoped the building’s construction would help foster a more creative environment at the University. “We dare to hope that the much-needed-qualities of the spirit will be nurtured through a program that combines discipline in the sciences, the humanities, and the social studies with creativity in the performing arts,” he said. “We anticipate that creative effort will cultivate artistic and spiritual resources which will give meaning and direction to our material growth.”
On Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. Wilkes University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts with an evening of dance, music and theatre performances. Select scenes from plays, including Our Town and Shout! The Mod Musical, were performed, along with a modern dance offering and a ballet selection. The Wilkes University Chorus, Chamber Singers, Civic Band and Jazz Ensemble performed.
- On October 26, 1965, the first part of the Center for the Performing Arts, which included a theater, was dedicated in loving memory of Allan Hamilton Dickson and Kate Pettebone Dickson, father and mother of Dorothy Dickson Darte, a dedicated trustee and long-time benefactor of Wilkes. (View Opening Program)
- A few years later, in 1969, a two-story building was added to complete the CPA. This
section of the building housed the music and theater departments. Unfortunately, Ms.
Darte passed away on July 2, 1969, just before the building's dedication on April
10, 1970. After Ms. Darte's death, her daughter, Katherine Darling, gave Wilkes permission
to use her mother's name for the newly constructed addition to the Center for the
Performing Arts. The building became known as the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts.
- At a thirtieth anniversary ceremony held on October 15, 1995, the Center's theater
was named in honor of Ms. Darte's grandson, Edward Darling, Jr. He was active in the
theater program at Wilkes, however he passed away at the young age of 26. (View 30th Anniversary Program)
Despite the great contributions of Ms. Darte to the Wilkes community, she never permitted Wilkes to acknowledge her as a donor. In fact, President Eugene Farley often referred to her as "an anonymous donor" in his speeches, even when she was listening in the audience.
In addition to her contributions to Wilkes, Ms. Darte was the first female director of the Osterhout Free Library from 1945 to 1953, and was inducted into the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania in 1962.
Despite her years of deliberate anonymity, Dorothy Dickson Darte's generosity to Wilkes and love of the arts will long be remembered by those who pass by the corner of South and River Streets. In the building's dedication program, Eugene Farley describes her devotion by noting, "Dorothy modestly and quietly did so much for Wilkes College, its students and the greater community."
- In the mid to late 1800s the land on which the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts now stands was used as a depot for the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad. After the railroad station was removed, the property was bought by two wealthy brothers -- William and Charles Conyngham. Like so many others at that time, the brothers made their fortunes from the coal industry and subsequently built two of the largest mansions along the riverfront. The men were relatives of the owners of our current Conyngham Student Center, however, their homes were removed and the lot on which they stood remained empty until construction began on Wilkes' Center for the Performing Arts.
Darte Center Historical Photos
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