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OSU’s new cultural hub throws a party

The university swings open the doors of its new $75 million PRAx arts and performance hall and kicks off a creative space for students, artists, and the surrounding community.

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An open-house day crowd begins to gather before the performance by Native Rose and Jan Michael Looking Wolf in the Lynne Hallstrom Detrick Concert Hall of the new PRAx cultural center on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. Photo: Alexander Banks

The $75 million Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts – also known as PRAx – officially opened its doors on Oregon State University’s campus in Corvallis last Saturday, April 6, with an open house and its first headliner show.

From noon until 7 p.m., PRAx offered various events throughout the day in its lobby, theater and gallery for all spectators, art lovers and music listeners. Daytime events were held for free until the $10 headliner performance at 5 p.m.


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“It sort of felt like Toys R’ Us on Black Friday,” PRAx Executive Director Peter Betjemann said. “We opened the doors at noon and people came streaming in.”

Featured art and artists included Refik Anadol’s data sculpture, a performance by Native Rose featuring Jan Michael Looking Wolf, Fernanda D’Agostino’s immersive art installation, a curated art exhibition by Bob Santelli and the headliner show by the Delbert Anderson Quartet.

The center had a goal of 1,000 to 2,000 people showing up to the open house. Because daytime events at PRAx were free, it’s hard to put an exact number on how many people showed up. But based on his rough estimate, Betjemann believes PRAx easily exceeded its goal, reaching about 3,000 people.

Visitors to the PRAx open house were treated to a floating vision in the Thomas W. Toomey Lobby: a Bioacoustics Data Sculpture by Refik Anadol. Photo: Alexander Banks

“It’s such a relief,” Betjemann said. “We’ve been talking about the ways in which this building would welcome the public from the beginning. To see people in (PRAx) has felt so meaningful.”

Betjemann is most excited for people to experience the variety that PRAx has to offer. In addition to offering music performances, art and technology, there are spaces for children to enjoy themselves as well.

At the open house the center’s seminar room held drop-in artmaking for all ages, hosted by Maxtivity Arts & Crafts Creative Space, an arts center located in the nearby town of Philomath.

The Kate and John Stirek Gallery featured an exhibition titled Sonic Booms: How the Sound and Science of Technology Created Pop Music. The exhibition highlighted music history and icons, revealed technological breakthroughs in music, showcased signed guitars from old rock stars like Gene Simmons, and even offered an interactive dj booth and drum set – which children enjoyed as well.

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What’s an open-house party without a rock and roll guitar or nine? — in the exhibition “Sonic Booms: How the Sound and Science of Technology Created Pop Music,” inside PRAx’s Kate and John Stirek Gallery. Photo: Alexander Banks

OSU student C Reeder, who prefers the pronouns ey/em, first heard about PRAx a year ago when looking for different jobs on campus, as well as noticing the construction that was happening. “(The) main reason that I came was for the Native Rose band with Jan Michael Looking Wolf,” Reeder said.

Jan Michael Looking Wolf, also known as Jan Reibach, is also a music instructor at OSU and teaches the Native American flute. Along with more than 700 performances, 70 award recognitions and induction into the Hall of Fame by One World Music Radio, he has taught more than 16,000 students on how to play the Native American Flute, according to his biography.

Reibach has roots in the Kalapuya tribe, whose homelands include part of the area on which OSU sits today. Reeder says that ey and some students were supposed to perform with Reibach, but it didn’t work out. Reeder started learning how to play the Native American flute after taking Reibach’s class last fall.

“After coming today, there’s so many amazing things here,” Reeder said.

As someone who loves making art and music, Reeder also enjoys visiting art centers, and said that PRAx was the best opening experience ey has gone to — not only because ey knows some of the performers, but especially because of the music history and culture that’s being showcased as well.

Reeder plans to be back to see Robin Wall Kimmerer, Indigenous author of Braiding Sweetgrass, who has a sold-out event at PRAx scheduled for May 17.

Jazz vocalist Julia Keefe, who performed with headliner Delbert Anderson. Photo courtesy PRAx.

With the open house, PRAx kicked off a multi-year commitment to present musicians who explore Indigenous history through jazz music, according to the PRAx website. 

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Delbert Anderson, headline performer at Saturday’s open house, is a trumpet player and composer who has Diné – or Navajo – roots, and who integrates the sounds of his heritage into jazz and funk music. Julia Keefe, the vocalist who performed with Anderson and his quartet, has Nez Perce roots. Keefe also has her own ensemble called the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band, who are Native and Indigenous musicians as well.

“(Keefe is) curating a series for us next year called the Indigenous Jazz Club,” Betjemann said. “People will have the opportunity to see three amazing Indigenous jazz musicians, one each term.”

Before the headliner performance in the Lynne Hallstrom Detrick Concert Hall, the hall featured performances from Native Rose and Jan Michael Looking Wolf, as well as an OSU student showcase.

Emma Nichols and Steven Evans-Renteria were two of the performers who displayed their opera-singing talents as part of the OSU Chamber Choir, accompanied by the OSU Jazz Ensemble, before performing alongside Julia Keefe and the Delbert Anderson Quartet.

Nichols is a second-year OSU student, studying vocal performance and French. She has been taking vocal lessons since she was 10 years old, and was inspired by her music-loving family and television’s American Idol. “I grew up on ’70s, ’80s funk,” Nichols said. “And I just really started loving how music felt, and I really wanted to take part in that.”

Nichols also grew up playing piano and violin, but now uses her voice as her main instrument. In her showcase, she performed Circling the Sun from a collection of songs titled The Sun Is Love, composed by Gwyneth Walker.

Nichols doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do as far as specializing in the musical theater, being a recitalist or being an opera singer, but she does know what she wants to use her voice in every capacity possible.

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Evans-Rentira is a fourth-year OSU student finishing up his vocal performance degree. “My family tells apocryphal stories of me wearing out cassette tapes and VHSes when I was little,” Evans-Rentira said. “So I think I’ve always been drawn towards music.”

Although he grew up in the theater, playing in bands and learning instruments such as the piano and trombone, once Evans-Rentira arrived at OSU he knew that music – specifically singing – was what he wanted to pursue.

Evans-Rentira performed Color in Light from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George. He and Nichols each have more than 50 performances under their belts, but would rank their student showcase performance at PRAx at the top of their lists.

Music in the concert hall, music in the gallery space, too: Part of the exhibition “Sonic Booms: How the Sound and Science of Technology Created Pop Music” in the Kate and John Stirek Gallery. Photo: Alexander Banks

The open house ended with a sold-out headliner performance in the 490-seat concert hall. After the inaugural performance from the Delbert Anderson Quartet and Julia Keefe, the concert ended with a five-movement suite composed by Franklin Piland – an American Indian conductor of wind bands – with Anderson and Keefe. The collection of songs conducted by Piland, together titled the Oregon Suite, enacted help from the OSU chamber choir and jazz ensemble.

The open house drew people from beyond OSU, too. Corvallis couple Ann and Erik received a PRAx catalog in the mail, and decided to come to the open house because they were really interested in the jazz performance during the headliner show. “That’s one thing really missing from the music community in Corvallis,” Erik said. “(There’s) good classical but not much jazz.”

The couple didn’t get a chance to listen to the other performances in the concert hall, but thought the headliner performance was amazing. Erik said that the first piece that was performed by the Delbert Anderson Quartet reminded him of the Miles Davis album Sketches of Spain.

Erik and Ann even bought tickets to three other music performances at PRAx — something that pleases Betjemann, the center’s executive director. “I’m excited for people to experience just how much PRAx wants to do, and how much PRAx can do,” he said.

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Future events at PRAx, some of which are already sold out, can be found on the cultural center’s website

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ALSO READ: Corvallis’s PRAx of life open its doors, Brian Libby’s ArtsWatch story about the new creative center’s design and its importance to OSU and the surrounding communities.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Alexander Banks is a journalism student at Oregon State University. Outside of freelancing, he also works as a news contributor and columnist for The Daily Barometer, a student-run newspaper at the university. He enjoys photography, photo and video editing, graphic design, and watching movies in his free time. He is also an introvert and cat lover.

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