The original Performing Artists Series at Kutztown University was started in 1988 to bring professional performing artists to the school and the surrounding communities. Founding director Ellen Finks, started the first season with three performances: one music program (Hungarian Radio Chamber Orchestra), one dance program (Murray Louis Dance Company) and one theater program (the Acting Company). The series grew steadily to seven performances by the '94-'95 season.
In the '95-'96 season the first children's series was introduced with three performances. Over the last 25 years the series has showcased a dazzling variety of artists including Grover Washington, Jr., St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with Yefim Bronfman and Hugh Wolff, The King Singers, Eileen Ivers, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Mark Morris Dance, Garth Fagan Dance, and many others. The programs have brought over 200,000 patrons and children to Kutztown University and has developed a loyal following from as far away as Lancaster, Wyomissing, Lehighton, and Allentown. Since 1998, we have served over 100 schools and community groups, and over 65,000 children in both Berks and Lehigh and surrounding counties.
In 2008, after 20 years, Ellen Finks retired and in 2009, Andrew Cassano was hired as the new Director. It was at that time the identity of KU Presents! was established to define the overarching programs in the Performing Artists Series, Children's Series, Special Events, and new Ursa Minor's Café. Housed within the McFarland Student Union Building, Ursa Minor's Café served as an intimate performance space for KUPresents! artists, as diverse as Shemekia Copeland, The Mambo Kings, Janis Ian and Wycliffe Gordon, during the expansive renovation to Schaeffer Auditorium.
In 2013, Robin Zaremski was hired as director and programmed an outstanding season to mark the grand re-opening of Schaeffer. Momix, The Time Jumpers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Ahn Trio and Kevin Eubanks, Pentatonix welcomed several sell-out audiences and ushered in a new era of KU Presents!
In 2017, Bryan Zellmer took over as director and, in addition to programming for the 30th season of KU Presents!, is instrumental in bringing President Hawkinson's vision of a Visual & Performing Arts Society to fruition. This Society will raise funds for programming, faculty scholarships and educational outreach opportunities. Today, along with Patron Services Manager, Amy Botwright; Outreach Coordinator, Elaine Bonfitto; and Production Manager, Tim Shapiro; as well as the seasonal aid of over 20 students, KU Presents! continues its mission to be the center of cultural life at Kutztown University and the regional community through professional presentations of innovative and engaging live music, theater, and dance of the highest quality.
The 2019-2020 season was cut short as Schaeffer Auditorium went dark, like all performing arts venues public gathering, and work spaces around the world because of the global COVID pandemic. New ways to connect and engage our audiences came to light with Bryan hosting a podcast of interviews with industry producers and artists called From the Green Room,” and streaming of our Spring 2021 outdoor series Arts Alive! Eager for live performances, audiences returned to Schaeffer for a lighter but exciting 2001-2022 season.
A full list of series performances is available here.