The exterior sign of Lehigh's Zoellner Arts Center. Zoellner is Lehigh’s hub for the performing arts, housing concerts, plays, musicals, and various other events. (Yasemin Gulerman/B&W Staff)

Zoellner arts unify Lehigh and Bethlehem communities


Zoellner Arts Center was built to foster an environment where artists and students pursuing the arts can develop and learn and artists can inspire performers by putting on high-quality events.

Zoellner has both created a forum for many kinds of arts and provided students with an extra-curricular option for quality entertainment.

One student who has been taking advantage of the center is Shiva Joshi, ’16, who recently attended Pete Davidson’s stand-up performance at the center.

Joshi said he’s attended events at Zoellner since his first year at Lehigh.

“It’s awesome how many shows they are able to put on,” Joshi said. “It’s definitely going to be one of the main things I am going to miss after graduating.”

A major challenge that Zoellner faces is their programming signature, which is very different from that of other venues in the Lehigh Valley. The Sands Event Center, the State Theatre in Easton and ArtsQuest offer similar events, but have different styles of ticketing and financing their events. A reason for this is that Zoellner acts as unifying force for Lehigh and the Bethlehem area, so they offer deals and free shows for students and community members.

Since it is based in Bethlehem, Zoellner balances the artistic desires of Lehigh with those of the Bethlehem community.

“Zoellner serves a wide range of patrons, from both the Lehigh and local communities,” wrote Kevin Kirner, a graduate student at Lehigh and the manager of ticket services and information systems manager at Zoellner, in an email. “Some of our programming is mission-based, connected with Lehigh’s academic and institutional goals, while some revolve around Zoellner’s artistic vision.”

Kirner’s main responsibility revolves around customer service and managing the database for ticket sales. He said that while ticket sales are vital to maintaining the events that Zoellner runs, they typically cover only about half the costs of staging performances and events.

Despite an original $6 million grant from Lehigh alumnus Robert Zoellner, ’54, when the building was opened in 1997, continuous funding is needed for the center to maintain its operation and bring in big-name acts.

“The center has a business model that requires funding to cover expenses of artistic and technical fees to come from ticket revenue, grants, corporate sponsorship and individual donors,” wrote Silagh White, the director of Arts Engagement & Community Cultural Affairs, in an email.

While ticket revenue plays a big part in this model, the center receives outreach from both the university and its alumni to help keep it up and running. Events like Zoellner’s annual gala contribute to this aid.

“While the gala is the annual fundraiser, it’s year-round work to cultivate donors,” White wrote.

She said that the center receives some support from the university for academic expenses. One of the major expenses that Zoellner has to configure on a regular basis is their guest artist series. The series includes a balance of dance and music including jazz, classical, pop and Broadway, as well as lectures, film and family programming.

In the past, the guest artist series has featured artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Tony Bennet, the New York Philharmonic, Ithak Perlman, Chick Corea and David Parsons, according to the Zoellner Arts Center website. White said that deciding what shows Zoellner is going to host can be a complicated process and is based off of a complicated puzzle of who’s touring, when and where they are also booked, and how the artist might sell in the venue.

Zoellner also offers several benefits to those close to home for local patrons.

“We offer a slew of discounts to almost all Zoellner-presented events,” Kirner wrote. “Senior citizens, Lehigh faculty, staff, Lehigh students, LVAIC faculty/staff, other college students and children are all eligible to receive discounts off full-price tickets. In addition, many of our events are underwritten, allowing anyone to attend free of charge or for minimal cost.”

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