Harry W. Morrison co-founded the Morrison-Knudsen Company, a civil engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho, that built many of America’s landmarks, including the Hoover Dam and the San Francisco -Oakland Bay Bridge. Morrison-Knudsen had an international reputation as the company that could handle the most challenging construction projects in the world. Later in his life, Harry and his wife Velma traveled the world together, visiting many of the sites of his construction projects and enjoying the arts and culture of every place they visited.
Harry had long dreamed of building a performing arts center in his hometown of Boise, and after he died in 1971, Velma Morrison sought assistance from family, friends, and colleagues to ensure Harry’s dream. In a public-private partnership with Boise State University, which also desired a performing arts center and education facility for the growing Music and Theatre Departments, Mrs. Morrison worked with the President of Boise State University, Dr. John Keiser, to secure the funding needed to build the Morrison Center on the campus along the banks of the Boise River.
The Legislature appropriated $5.2 million to construct an academic wing, and an additional $13 million was raised through donations from the Harry W. Morrison Family Foundation and individuals, corporations, and private businesses to finish the performing arts center. The Morrison Center opened on April 7, 1984, as a stunning modern fixture to the Boise skyline with a 10-story stage house and a building footprint in the shape of the state of Idaho.
The Morrison Center was renamed the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts on the 10th-anniversary celebration.
In the first 15 years of operation, Velma Morrison and the founding Board of Governors established the Morrison Center Endowment to cover maintenance and upgrades to the public performing arts center side of the building and currently has assets exceeding $15 million. The Morrison Center Endowment also offers grants to local arts organizations to cover the rental and production costs of performing at the Morrison Center. Since the late 1980s, the endowment’s assistance of local arts groups totals millions of dollars. The Morrison Center Foundation’s assistance also allows the Morrison Center to offer programming across many artistic disciplines.
Today, the Morrison Center provides a home stage for such local arts organizations as the Boise Philharmonic, Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho, and Boise State University’s Music and Theatre Arts Departments. It has hosted such greats as Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman, Harry Belafonte, Jerry Seinfeld, David Copperfield, Hal Holbrook, and countless others. It hosts nationally recognized speakers and comedians as well as touring Broadway productions. The hit Broadway Show Wicked had a record-breaking 24-performance run in 2014, and numerous other Broadway productions have played since 1997 as part of the Broadway series.
Since opening, the Morrison Center has had an economic impact on the Greater Treasure Valley. An economic impact study conducted by Boise State University for the 2019 fiscal year shows a $27.9 M economic impact on Ada County. Attendance for 2019 was 204,508. Laura Kendall was appointed Executive Director in October 2019, and under her leadership, the Morrison Center continues to fulfill its mission of cultural enrichment.