MSU Riley Center in Meridian, MS

The MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts attracts more than 60,000 visitors to downtown Meridian each year for meetings, educational activities and performances.

By Kim Madlom on April 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm EST
Meridian, MS Artists' Co-op & Gallery


A performing arts center, a conference center, an educational center, a catalyst for downtown revitalization – these are all accurate ways to describe the MSU Riley Center. Since opening its doors in 2006, the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts has attracted more than 60,000 visitors to downtown Meridian each year for meetings, educational activities and performances.

Some of that success is tied to the setting.

The centerpiece of the MSU Riley Center is a fully restored, fully functioning 1889 Grand Opera House theater. The theater’s exquisite Victorian décor combined with its remarkable intimacy and quality acoustics are impossible to mimic in modern day venues. Half brothers I. Marks and Levi Rothenberg built the Grand Opera House and a five-story department store side-by-side to complement each other.

Over 100 years later, the historic buildings have come full circle to once again complement each other as a vibrant hub for arts, education and conference events. A public-private partnership resulted in the $25 million renovation that led to much more than just a stunning facility. The MSU Riley Center provides locals and tourists alike a special place to enjoy the arts, experience lifelong learning and engage in social interaction, all while contributing to the community’s overall quality of life and economic development.

Performing Arts

A wide variety of artists perform in the theater ranging from B.B. King, Trisha Yearwood, Lyle Lovett and Keb’ Mo’ to Garrison Keillor, Wynton Marsalis, Randy Newman and Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

“Its staggering the quality entertainment the center has brought to Meridian,” said longtime Meridianite, Wink Glover, “We are fortunate to experience this here without having to travel to larger markets. Instead, we benefit from tourists coming to us.”

Students also benefit from the center’s quality performing arts and educational offerings. Some 15,000 students in grades K-12 attend daytime shows in the theater. As a partner in the John F. Kennedy Center’s arts education program, the center provides teacher training on how to use the arts as an effective tool to teach core subject matter, such as literature, history, math, science and basic language skills.

In addition to the performing arts and educational component, the center’s use as a meeting facility has earned widespread praise. ConventionSouth magazine presented the MSU Riley Center with their annual Readers’ Choice Award for demonstrating excellence, professionalism and creativity in 2009. Conference goers are impressed by the facility’s exceptional blending of the old with the new.

Riley Center's Versatility

Part of the MSU-Meridian campus, the multifaceted center serves as a source of pride for Mississippi State University, Meridian and the state as a whole, says Dennis Sankovich, executive director of the MSU Riley Center. “Our space has been used for everything from traditional convention and meeting space to black tie gala events, a campaign stop for presumed Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, and even a backdrop for the filming of ‘Oprah.’”

Steeped in history, the future of the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts’ is certainly bright.

Discover more on arts and culture in Meridian, MS.

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