By Dana Cole

Over the next year, nearly 30 big-name acts will make an appearance on Eastern’s campus.

 With the opening of the new EKU Center for the Arts Sept. 9, the likes of Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin and Jerry Seinfeld will grace Colonel Country with their presence. The brand new EKU Center for the Arts will play host to these performers.

“I anticipate a very successful opening season,” Debra Hoskins, director of the EKU Center for the Arts, said. “It’s going to be what I’m going to consider the finest facility in the state.And Eastern should be very proud to have this opening on their campus.”

The anticipation of the opening of Eastern’s newest facility has been building for quite some time now. During the last year, the building has been transformed from merely rafters and dirt floors to an expansive structure.

Although the only advertisement of planned events has been in a newspaper advertisement and online, ticket sales have already taken off.

Josh Koch, a public relations major from Allentown, Pa., and a student worker in the Center for the Arts office, has witnessed firsthand the progress the Center has made.

“It’s [ticket sales] been one of the chief and most successful gauges of the success that we’ve had so far,” Koch said.

Prices of tickets for events at the Center range from $15 to $125 for this season, and Hoskins maintains this will be a consistent trend.

“Those will be comparable ticket prices for all seasons,” Hoskins said. “Every now and then, we will bring in an act that will be very expensive…but these are ticket prices that will be pretty standard.”

Marc Whitt, associate vice president for public relations, said the sheer volume of visitors the Center promises to bring to Richmond and the Eastern campus will have a great effect on the entire community.

“The Center for the Arts is clearly going to position both Eastern and the city of Richmond as a destination point for the arts,” Whitt said. “So we really have a tremendous opportunity here with the Center for the Arts to showcase what the university and the community have to offer.”

Hoskins and Whitt both agree the economic impact of opening a facility of this type will be great for all businesses in the community, from restaurants to gas stations to hotels.

“Everything that has to do with going out for the evening will increase, and the economy will show a significant increase when we open the doors,” she said.

Along with the scheduled acts for next season, the staff of the Center is vying to host one of the 2012 presidential debates. In late May, the debate commission from Washington, D.C. made a trip to Eastern to survey the site and surrounding facilities.

“They had nothing but a raving review for the prospect of Eastern holding the debate,” Hoskins said.  “When we get it, and I say that very optimistically, I don’t ever use the term ‘if’ because I believe we have such a good chance.”

Whitt said the commission was not only impressed with the new Center, but with its closeness to I-75 and the nearness of emergency facilities such as the Madison Co. EMS service and State Police Post.

Although the task at hand hasn’t been an easy one, Hoskins has been more than happy to be a part of this chapter of Eastern’s life. A graduate of Eastern herself, Hoskins is glad to be back home.

“Having the opportunity to come back and work for the institution that gave me such an opportunity by getting my degrees…and now I can come back,” Hoskins said. ” And I appreciate the opportunity to come back and be able to give back.”

Whitt, also an alumni of Eastern, is proud to be a part of the opening of the Center as well.

“I think in many ways, most of us that have been involved in some aspect of seeing this facility open, we feel much the same way that the Center for the Arts is like a child we have been waiting on to be born and now that the arrival is almost here that is pretty exciting,” Whitt said.

To kick off the debut season of the Center, Hoskins and her staff have planned an invitation only, black tie event for Sept. 9.

“The evening is full of surprises, I can’t tell you exactly what the performance will be, but it will be a mixture of performers,” Hoskins said. “When folks leave here, they are gonna say, ‘Wow. If this is the beginning of what’s to come, then we are in for a treat.'”

For a full schedule of events visit www. EKUCenter.com or call 1.888.EKU.SHOW