Women’s History Month Focus: the Ent Center for the Arts

The Ent Center for the Arts is championed by the leadership of women. From its construction to the stage, women play a pivotal role in the Ent Center’s existence.

The Ent Center for the Arts opened Jan. 2018 and houses VAPA classes, Theatreworks and the GOCA, along with a plethora of performance spaces open to UCCS students and the public.

Pam Shockley-Zalabak served as UCCS’ Chancellor from 2001 to 2017 and oversaw the construction of the Ent Center. In what she described as “a series of unfortunate circumstances,” Shockley-Zalabak begrudgingly took the chancellor position, despite her desire to remain on faculty. She continued to teach in the Department of Communication while she served as chancellor.

Her love for students motivated her to advance UCCS’ facilities and navigate a time of financial hardships for the university. “9/11 happened, and the campus suffered — as did every place in the nation — with all the financial downturns and all the trauma from what had happened … I stayed the Chancellor for a long time because I do love the campus … I care about the students,” she said.

Shockley-Zalabak led UCCS through the 2008 recession. In 2010, then-Facilities Manager Gary Reynolds saw an opportunity to construct a performing arts center, a goal the university had for over 20 years.

“I fundamentally believed that to be a university in its fullest sense of the word, we need science buildings, engineering buildings, academic facilities, the humanities,” Shockley-Zalabak said. “We need all of the kinds of … physical facilities … but we did not have a legitimate performing arts venue.”

Shockley-Zalabak gathered a committee to update the construction plan and decided to apply for what little funding the state had after the recession. UCCS was the only school to apply, and received the funding on the condition that the appropriation could be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Ent Center Fundraising Committee.

With the help of Kyle and Sally Hybl, Shockley-Zalabak was able to fundraise enough to match the state’s funding, opening the door to offer what she described as a “range and exposure of experiences.”

The largest theater, a performance space for visiting artists to rent, is named after Shockley-Zalabak. “I’m a little bit embarrassed by that. I thought when they asked me about that that they were asking me to name the stage,” she said. “I said yes because I was trying to raise money to name the theater.”

“It was a thank you to me for having worked on it, by a number of people in the community, and I am deeply appreciative of that,” Shockley-Zalabak said. “It’s a little strange to sit in the audience, which I do a lot, and have it called by my last name. I’m a little more used to it now, but in the beginning, I just wanted to shrink down in my seat, because I don’t need to take credit for things … it was such a team of people.”

The Shockley-Zalabak Theater is not the only space with a female namesake in the Ent Center. The Margot Lane Rehearsal Hall, Peggy Shivers Piano Lab, Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery and Kang Lee Sheppard Project Space are all named after notable female contributors.

Executive Director of the Ent Center David Siegel noted that naming spaces after contributors was a key philanthropic strategy to help create the Ent Center in a time of financial hardship.

“Each of the theaters represent an arts leader, and somebody who’s really important in this arts community,” Siegel said. Each of their donations significantly helped fund the building.

Siegel said the Ent Center continues to thrive under the leadership of women. Caitlin Lowans (she/they) oversees Theatreworks, Joy Armstrong (she/they) runs GOCA and Senior Director of Operations Sabrina Weinholtz (she/her) oversees finances and building upkeep.

“For years, creative leadership in fine arts has been far too restrictive. It’s been a male-dominated field,” Siegel said, stressing the impact of women in Ent Center leadership.

Siegel and Shockley-Zalabak hope that the representation around the Ent Center helps students feel welcomed and encouraged.

“I hope that when students see female leadership … they see that achievement isn’t about a specific gender or sexual identity,” Shockley-Zalabak said. “I hope they see that achievement and honoring is about people who want to make an impact, and that anybody can do that, that we no longer have to be a particular type to make an impact.”

Last year, the Ent Center put on 430 stage performances and welcomed over 65,000 guests. Shockley-Zalabak and Siegel encourage students to take advantage of their arts pass and stop by the Ent Center at least once a semester.

The Ent Center for the Arts. Photo by Meghan Germain.