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John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center

About the Bardo Arts Center

The John W. Bardo Fine in Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University is a collective center for the arts in western North Carolina. WCU was founded in 1889 to provide an education for the young people in the region and train teachers to spread education throughout the western part of the state. Bardo Arts Center opened its doors in 2005 in a deliberate move to serve the region as a cultural catalyst to inspire, enrich and educate communities in western North Carolina. Today, Bardo Arts Center serves audiences of all ages across western North Carolina and empowers the regions artists and organizations through collaborative programming and community-based initiatives. Bardo Arts Center is home to the WCU Fine Art Museum, Performance Hall and Studio Theater. 

Bardo Arts Center

The John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center was designed by GUND Partnership an award-winning professional practice located in Cambridge, Mass. The GUND Partnership creates transformative environments that educate, inspire and delight. Founded in 1971, GUND Partnership has been honored with more than 100 national and regional awards for design excellence and has received wide critical acclaim and professional recognition for its work.

“As one of the first new arts centers to be built in this region of North Carolina, the challenge of this program was to reach out to the larger vibrant arts communities in the Appalachian region. In addition to the traditional academic activities of the university faculty and students, the center engages artists, musicians, theatre groups, creative writers, folk artists and craft persons throughout the region. With a very strict public university budget, it was clear that every space needed to be ultimately flexible, with enduring, simple materials of quality.” -GUND Partnership

Situated on the site of several early Cherokee settlements, Bardo Arts Center features numerous Cherokee-inspired design elements. In the main atrium, the tile floor design of a seven-pointed star represents the seven Cherokee clans; a ni gi lo hi (Long Hair), a ni sa ho ni (Blue), a ni wa ya (Wolf), a ni go te ge wi (Wild Potato), a ni a wi (Deer), a ni tsi s qua (Bird), and a ni wo di (Paint).

Bilingual signage in Cherokee and English, originally translated by Myrtle Driver, Beloved Woman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, can be seen throughout the center.

The Cherokee Syllabary on the walls of the main Atrium translates to “Our Story Lives On” (center) “Peaceful” (left) “Honorable” (right). Developed by Sequoya and adopted by the Cherokee Council in 1821, the Cherokee Syllabary is the written form of the Cherokee language.


Performance Hall in Bardo Arts Center with piano on the stage


The Performance Hall features an elegant 1,000-seat theatre, with newly-tuned acoustics and state-of-the-art lighting system. The Performance Hall presents professional artists throughout the year in the Bardo Arts Center Performance Series, previously known as Galaxy of Stars. In addition to world-class artists, Bardo Arts Center presents talented students and faculty from theWCU School of Stage and Screen and the School of Music. Bardo Arts Center also houses a more intimate performance setting for workshops and events called The Studio, similar to a traditional Black Box Theatre.


Fine Art Museum exhibit



The WCU Fine Art Museum opened in 2005, with the mission of serving as a cultural catalyst to celebrate and preserve the artistic legacy of Western North Carolina with a developing focus to collect, interpret and showcase innovation in contemporary art of high artistic merit. The WCU Fine Art Museum curates a 2,000-object collection of modern and contemporary art. The space encompasses four art galleries, an art preparation room, a secure storage vault, an object study room, a unique and inviting special events space called The Star Atrium, and an outdoor courtyard. To highlight the talent found at WCU, Bardo Arts Center presents exhibitions throughout the year featuring artwork from the School of Art and Design faculty, MFA, and BFA students.

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