Blackfoot arts center

Former Blackfoot High School choir director Susan Mann stands in the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center.

This spring Blackfoot High School students are rehearsing lines and preparing backdrops for their upcoming production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” but you never would have seen this kind of preparation more than 10 years ago.

In fact, you never would have seen a high-school musical in Blackfoot because the school had never performed one prior to 2005, said Susan Mann, former Blackfoot High School choir director. Until then, school programs were held in gymnasiums or at the old Blackfoot Tabernacle, now Hawker Funeral Home.

But on March 4, 2005, windows of opportunity opened for students and for the community at large as the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center opened on Blackfoot High School’s campus.

It became a prime location for civic and cultural events that just hadn’t ever been held in town.

During the 2000 election, Blackfoot School District 55 asked patrons to support a $7.5 million bond to build the center, and the bond passed by 70 percent. Today the district still oversees building scheduling and maintenance, which also allows school functions to have first choice when scheduling events.

As BPAC programming director for the past decade, Mann said the center “is used over 300 days a year — there’s always somebody in there using it,” whether for rehearsals or performances, political rallies or educational seminars. That’s been good news for district administrators, who told Mann they didn’t care if the center made money, as long as it didn’t lose any, she said.

And the center hasn’t. It’s become the place to see local talent, like Bar J Wranglers, and national talent, like military bands from Washington, D.C.

“I had to call and beg them to come the first time, and now they call me because we have this great facility, and they want to play in it,” Mann said.

Also, BPAC’s annual concert series has become a local option for seeing professional shows. The series starts a new season each September, and wraps up come spring. This year’s final concert will feature Alice Tan Ridley, a vocal contestant from “America’s Got Talent,” on April 18.

The community benefits too, as fundraisers are held in the center. A Relay for Life fundraiser dubbed “Bingham’s Got Talent” brought in a crowd of more than 600 on Feb. 20. And when it sees its reprise, Mann said she expects the center to be filled to its 1,223-person capacity. Mann said the Blackfoot economy has been stimulated as more shows have been held at the center.     

She said that restaurants, gas stations and motels see an uptick in customers due to visitors coming to town for a show or meeting.

With all that use, the BPAC requires regular upkeep and maintenance.

But center manager Mark Evans does much of the work himself. He also teaches a trimester class of two to seven students who want to learn the technical aspects of theater. These include setting up sound systems and amplifiers, running lighting systems and troubleshooting lighting and sound issues, he said. Maintaining the center with student involvement saves the district money and teaches students valuable skills too, Mann said.

The updating of sounds and lights is paid for with money raised though ticket sales and grants.

In January, the 11-member BPAC board was able to purchase a digital soundboard to keep things sounding great in the center.

The approaching spring will highlight the essence of the center as Blackfoot children sing for year-end programs and walk the stage for graduation. And after 10 years it’s gratifying to Mann to see the center being used as was expected — and for more. “It’s kind of become a hub for all of Southeast Idaho,” Mann said. “We foresaw concerts in there, and now we see everything in there.”