“Welcome to this somewhat historic moment,” said Jack Thompson, then-president of the Cooper Foundation, who stood before the inaugural crowd at Lincoln’s new performing arts center. “The Lied Center promises to be a major asset, not only to the University of Nebraska but to the whole state.”
It’s difficult to remember Lincoln before the Lied Center for Performing Arts. It feels like the Lied’s annual schedule of Broadway plays, dance troupes and musical performances has been part of the community for generations. In fact, the Lied Center just celebrated its 25th anniversary and the story of its inception is closely linked to the Cooper Foundation. Thompson co-chaired, along with Woody Varner, the fundraising drive for the Lied. Its first event on November 16, 1989, was Cooper supported—an E. N. Thompson Forum lecture by Middle East scholar Robin Wright.
The Cooper Foundation has supported the Lied Center across three decades, beginning with grants totaling more than $300,000 for the establishment of the Center itself. From funding a project that allowed middle schoolers to sing with the Soweto Gospel Choir, to purchasing projection and sound equipment, funding statewide artist-in-residency programs, and awarding a recent $25,000 grant toward the purchase of a new grand drape, Cooper trustees have shown ongoing commitment to the Lied’s success. All told, Cooper’s grants to the Lied Center total more than $575,000.
And what a success it has been. In its first 25 seasons, the Lied Center hosted more than 2,000 artists and sold more than 3,000,000 tickets. Since its founding, one million students have participated in the Lied’s education and performance programs. Oh, and Blue Man Group used 966 bananas during their 2011 and 2013 performances.
The Lied Center continues to shape Lincoln's cultural landscape. We believe Jack Thompson and Woody Varner would be pleased.