Oregon State University is known for engineering, agriculture, research, and as one of the two remaining members of the crumbling Pac-12 athletic conference. It’s not usually thought of as an arts school – but that could be changing.
The Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts, shortened typically to PRAx, is a $70 million cultural destination that is set to open in April 2024. Located in the southeastern quadrant of OSU’s campus in Corvallis, the center fills a long empty niche in OSU’s offered services: a state-of-the-art hub for arts education, performance, and exhibition.
“We’re just about ready to do the most important thing for the arts in 150 years at Oregon State University,” said Steven M. Zielke, the Patricia Valian Reser professor of music. “That’s one-hundred percent true. Every dedicated arts facility we’ve had in the past has been repurposed as non-arts facilities. The theater was turned into a gymnastics practice facility, and the recital hall was turned into a classroom. This is a facility dedicated, from the bottom stone to the top stone, to the arts.”
OREGON CULTURAL HUBS: An Occasional Series
When completed, across PRAx’s 49,000 square feet will be four indoor venues, an outdoor performing arts area, a rehearsal building, and a demonstration and strolling garden. Included in those venues will be an indoor concert hall with 490 seats, as well as a black box theater with flexible seating ranging from 80 to 200, both of which double as teaching spaces. There will also be a 3,000-square foot art gallery, which will be used both by the university’s various arts departments and as a showcase for non-university shows, and will be easily accessible to the surrounding community.
PRAx is the second such center to open recently bearing the Reser name, following last year’s highly successful opening of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton. Future plans include collaborations between PRAx and The Reser on programming, content, and student engagement.
The new OSU project also builds momentum for Corvallis as an arts destination, following the 2021 opening of the Corvallis Museum, home to the Benton County Historical Society’s collection of historical artifacts, as well as the Oregon State University Horner Museum Collection.
The integration of arts and science
In addition to being a dedicated arts center, PRAx will also serve as a vital educational asset for the university. The acronym PRAx stands for Patricia Reser Arts, with the “x” signifying the center’s intersections between the arts and other academic disciplines. The goal isn’t just to create a space for creativity, but to fully integrate it into OSU’s already established base of research, creating a bridge between the arts and sciences. “One of the programs that we have is the PRAx Student Fellowship,” said Carly Lettero, the Associate Director of Arts, Science, Humanities, and Technology Integration at PRAx, “which is a year-long fellowship for students who are interested in working at one of those intersections, so it could be art-science or art-engineering or humanities-science, and understanding that students don’t have to think in just one way.”
“I feel like humanities and creative work are really important for all of us,” added Ashley Stull Meyers, the Mary Jones and Thomas Hart Horning Chief Curator of Art, Science, and Technology for PRAx, “especially where students are growing into well-rounded thinkers. Sciences have really particular methodologies for the way you’re taught to investigate things and we’re lucky that OSU is such a rigorous research institution in that way. But it’s important to have complimentary ways to look at things.”
A new era of campus event space
PRAx also enhances the campus’s conference and events space, the LaSells Stewart Center, which was built in 1981 and is home to the largest current indoor event space on the campus: Austin Auditorium, a two-level space with 1,200 available seats. Additionally at the LaSells, the Giustina Gallery is a 3,865-square-foot space that hosts upwards of 12 exhibits annually. The Giustina is also receiving renovations this year in order to replace outdated systems, refurbish the roof, and improve energy efficiency.
“PRAx will allow us to showcase and amplify what has already been happening at OSU for a long time,” said Peter Swendsen, the Patricia Valian Reser Chair and Director of the School of Visual, Performing, and Design Arts. “There’s a rich lineage and tradition of the arts here going back generations. This allows us to shine a spotlight on it.”
Patricia Valian Reser
The new arts center was made possible through the generosity of OSU alumna Patricia Valian Reser, a 1960 graduate who received an honorary doctorate in 2019. Reser’s extraordinary leadership gift of $25 million inspired more than $5 million in additional donations to the OSU Foundation from others and helped OSU secure $38 million in state bonds. She serves as the first chair of the PRAx Advisory Board.
Reser and her late husband, Al, (also class of ’60) have, through the Reser Family Foundation, contributed to many other areas at Oregon State over the years, including the recently renovated Reser Stadium, the construction of the Linus Pauling Science Center and Austin Hall, and endowed professorships in music and chemistry. A longtime supporter of the arts, Pat Reser also oversaw a $13 million gift from the Reser Family Foundation for the construction of Beaverton’s Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, which opened in 2022.
April 6 Open House Celebration
Although PRAx will not be officially open until April 2024, tickets are already on sale for a celebratory opening concert and for other events scheduled throughout next year.
A free celebration will begin at noon on Saturday, April 6 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, building dedication, and land acknowledgment. The public, along with OSU students, faculty, and staff, is invited to enjoy live music, art installations, the opening gallery exhibition, activities for children, and tours of the spaces throughout the day. Admission to all daytime activities is free. For more information on specific events and activities and the timeline for the day, visit the Open House web page.
A special ticketed concert that evening will feature musicians who represent PRAx’s multi-year focus on exploring the Indigenous history threaded through jazz music. Delbert Anderson (Navajo/Diné) and his quartet, who have been celebrated by The New York Times for “putting the Indigenous sound back in jazz,” will headline the evening. They are joined for a special appearance by vocalist Julia Keefe (Nez Perce), who will serve as artistic director at PRAx for an ongoing series showcasing contemporary Native jazz performers. Admission to the concert, which will be open to the public, as well as the campus community, is $10 for the 5 p.m. headliner performance. For more information and tickets, visit the Open House concert box office.
For more information on other events scheduled at the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts, visit the center’s calendar of events.