In 2006, Kearney Public Schools alumnus Robert M. Merryman and local institutional supporters, including the Ron and Carol Cope Foundation, and the Scott D. Morris family, joined hundreds of donors from Kearney and the United States in imagining the possibilities of renovating the former Kearney Junior High auditorium. The result is a beautiful historic 760-seat theater that has become a vital performing arts center serving South Central Nebraska.
As its Strategic Plan tells us, MPAC is currently celebrating 16 years of programming, boasts 680 season members from 55 communities in Nebraska and Northern Kansas who enjoy an annual series of nationally touring music, theater, and dance performances.
The Merryman also welcomes thousands of audience members to enjoy performances by local, regional and national artists sponsored by its Partners in the Arts, namely Kearney Concert Association, Kearney Symphony Orchestra, Axtell Oratorio Society, and Crane River Theater
As a welcoming, world-class venue for South Central Nebraska, it serves as a cultural hub for the community and region, hosting nearly 200 events annually, from barbershop quartets to elementary school music concerts. Embracing the words placed at the arch of the proscenium stage nearly 100 years ago Knowledge Is Light, Wisdom is Power-MPAC today also daily demonstrates that Art Is Affirmation.
In support of its former director Bobbi Gail Lowenberg and its current director Denise Christensen, its Board of Directors has consistently represented a stellar array of Kearney’s arts and culture leadership, including currently or previously Jon Abegglen, Julie Agard, Nate Bruner, Ron Crocker, Tom Henning, Josh Jelden, Brad Kernick, Carol Lomicky, Diane Marlatt, Carolyn Menke, L. R. Smith, Todd Thalken, and Kearney Public School Superintendents Ken Anderson and Jason Mundorf.
To carry out the vision of the center and fulfill the direction set by its board, a stellar staff manages MPAC productions. Executive Director Denise Chistensen, Technical Director Shawn Deiger, Operations Manager Vonda Lundell, Hospitality and Ticket Office Manager Aaron Borer oversee artistic efforts.
MPAC can look both to the recent past and the near future for the hallmarks of the Merryman mission most visible to the public. Some time ago, MPAC and Kearney celebrated the gift of a new sculpture just outside its doors. On the occasion of its dedication, Director Christensen spoke to how honored the Merryman has been to become a center that welcomes both the performing and the visual arts, and she noted how audiences from communities across Nebraska would be able to enjoy a beautiful bronze artwork for years to come. The work to which she was referring is a life-size bronze sculpture by artist Mark Lundeen entitled Double Dip, a gift from the Brad Kernick family. The life-size bronze piece depicts an older gentleman with a young girl enjoying an ice cream cone on a bench together. Lundeen said his inspiration for the sculpture came from the love between a grandparent and grandchild and offers a vivid portrayal of how precious are the moments we share.
Double Dip joins many other visual arts displays hosted at the Merryman, including KINDRED, an exhibition from work of the faculty in the Art and Design Department at the University of Nebraska at Kearney that was being hosted inside MPAC even as Double Dip was being dedicated. Since MPAC is an ARTREACH partner with MONA, and ARTREACH exhibit will replace Kindred early in 2023. Earlier, Ken Anderson’s sketches of scenes from Cather’s Red Cloud adorned the walls, just recently MPAC was host for a holiday display of works by artists from the Kearney Artist Guild, and visitors now will see the gorgeously decorated Christmas Tree from the artistry of Carla Brooke’s design and Linda Anderson’s good eye.
The past is here prologue. Christensen’s emphasis on MPAC’s mission could just as well have been looking ahead to the anticipated 2023 dedication of yet a newer sculpture. Soon, the lobby of the Merryman Performing Arts Center will feature the kinetic art of Omaha artist Les Bruning. His Tumbleweed Symphony will honor the roots of the artist in western Nebraska as well as creating an even more welcoming entrance to the performing arts center.
The photos accompanying this entry will look back to the earlier Lundeen work of art, but stay tuned for 2023 and another entry on Tumbleweed Symphony.
So many local audiences are by now familiar with the Merryman Performing Arts Center-MPAC-in Kearney, Nebraska. But for the public at large, a short reminder of its history is in order. Viewers can also see here Kearney Create’s earlier entry on MPAC’s founding and purpose.
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