This popular SLO venue is getting a new name, free shows for kids — thanks to $1.5 million gift

The main performance hall of the Performing Arts Center, located on the edge of the Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo, is getting a new name.
The main performance hall of the Performing Arts Center, located on the edge of the Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo, is getting a new name. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo's largest performing arts venue is getting a new name thanks to a $1.5 million donation from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust that will fund free concerts for kids.

Sidney Harman Hall, the main performance space at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, will now be known as Harold Miossi Hall in honor of late rancher, environmentalist and philanthropist Harold J. Miossi, the trust and the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center announced at a naming ceremony Wednesday evening. (The announcement came just before a concert by singer Audra McDonald.)

The name change is a gesture of gratitude for the largest cash gift in FPAC history, FPAC executive director Leann Standish said.

The $1.5 million grant is also the largest in the history of the Miossi trust, trustee Howard Carroll said.

Carroll said the money will ensure financial stability for FPAC outreach efforts such as the School Matinee Program, which provides free performances for local school kids. About 10,000 students from 80 schools are expected to attend one of 12 shows by the likes of zydeco musician Terrance Simien, hip hop group Versa-Style Dance Company and the San Luis Obispo Symphony at the PAC during the 2017-2018 season, the FPAC said.

"They don’t have to have a bake sale. They don’t have to go out and beg for money," said Carroll, noting that the Miossi trust has sponsored the School Matinee Program for the past three years.

Located on the Cal Poly campus, the PAC opened its doors in 1996. It was built as a result of a joint venture by Cal Poly, the city of San Luis Obispo and the nonprofit FPAC, founded in 1986.

The venue, which hosts concerts, comedy shows, dance performances, theatrical productions and more, includes the 489-seat Spanos Theatre and the 180-seat Philips Hall, as well as the Pavilion, which can seat up to 400 people.

The PAC's main auditorium was originally named Harman Hall in 1996 in honor of Sidney Harman, a pioneer in high-fidelity audio who donated $500,000 worth of audio equipment.

In 2012, the 1,289-seat concert hall underwent a $2.4 million makeover featuring improvements such as a new sound system, seats, movie screen and refinished stage floor. The performance space added another amenity, cup holders on seats, in 2017.

Representatives for the Harmans returned the naming rights for the hall to the FPAC in 2014.

It will remain Miossi Hall for the next 15 years, Carroll said.

At that point, "We want to encourage a new donor to step forward and continue the tradition of philanthropy that originally helped make the Performing Arts Center a reality," he said.

Miossi Hall is the second local arts facility to bear the Miossi name.

The Cuesta College Art Gallery, located on the community college's San Luis Obispo campus, was renamed the Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery in 2014 in honor of a $250,000 gift from the Miossi trust.

Founded in 2006, the Miossi trust has donated more than $6.1 million worth of grants to organizations working in six key areas: animals, education, the environment, the Catholic church, fine arts and youth development. Carroll said 97 percent of those funds have gone to causes in San Luis Obispo County, where Miossi was born and raised.

According to Carroll, those grants include $1 million to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art's capital campaign to build a new $12 million home, and $1 million to the Cuesta Promise program, which covers the cost for local high school graduates to attend their first year at Cuesta College tuition-free.

For more information about the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust, visit www.miossicharitabletrust.org. Info about the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center is available at fpacslo.org.

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