Artists and performers at Keene State College can be thankful for former President Leo Redfern and his demand for making the college into a more cultural school and the creation of the Redfern Arts Center. KSC joined the University System of New Hampshire in 1963 as Keene State College, the public liberal arts college of New Hampshire. However, there was no designated area for these performers to perform.
Back in the summer of 1969, Leo Redfern became President of KSC. Redfern had a feel for the value of intellectual exploration. Quoted by the book “Striving” by James G. Smart, a book on the history of Keene State College, “[Leo] Redfern was easy to approach, ready to listen and extremely democratic, Redfern deeply believed in the team spirit and the team effort.”
According to the book, “Redfern was more willing to commit time and money to experimentation and innovation than any previous president had been. One of his great achievements, as far as he was concerned, was the Fine Arts Building and its location at Brickyard Pond.” Redfern wanted the campus to have more of a cultural atmosphere and that is when the start of the Fine Arts Building, which we now refer to as The Redfern Arts Center, process began.
A handwritten State Statute Document found in the Mason Library Archives from the 1960s said, “Each said state college shall become a multipurpose college by expanding the current programs to provide instruction in the liberal arts and sciences and dedicated applied fields is better pare the needs in its respective area of location.” It became apparent to former President Redfern that the college was, “Severely handicapped in implementing the statute without adequate facilities for the fine and performing arts,” according to the State Statute Document. In order to begin the process of creating a specific building geared toward the arts, the proposal had to pass through the government. Yet Redfern encountered several roadblocks on his road to creating the arts center. These issues included conservative state government, a tight economic situation in the state and a declined student population. Keene turned to the Alumni Association, community leaders, theater-goers, students, their parents, faculty and the Board of Trustees to join forces and, “Let out a big yell for help that would be heard around the state, ” the State Statute Document stated.
The people willing to help got on the phone and wrote letters to their legislators to spread the word about the project. With all their work, the region’s legislators heard the cry for help, but there was a long way to go for the then 4 million dollar project.
According to the State Statute Document, “The N.H. house public works committee recommended 600,000 dollars for preliminary planning, land acquisition and utility extensions.” However, the government didn’t agree with the capital budget. In 1978, 600,000 dollars had been allocated. The governor had let the project become a law without his signature; it was now going to cost 5,200,000 dollars. During the summer of 1978, a celebration was held on Keene campus in celebration of the process moving forward. The new governor, Meldrim Thomson signed the bill willingly and proudly of 958,000 dollars more with the total cost of the plan at 7,500,000 dollars. Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbot Architects of Boston, Mass. designed the building and it was constructed by MacMillin Corporation of Keene.
Rodney Obien, assistant professor, said that what was in the area before the Redfern was constructed was, “wet land” and that it was constructed over the course of 1979 to 1980. Also in 1988, the Putnam Theatre was added to the Redfern Arts Center. On May 21, 1988, KSC became only one of seven colleges and universities in the nation to have the capacity to show films in the 70-millimeter gauge. The Keene.edu website states, “The Redfern stage has hosted hundreds of amazing shows, from internationally renowned artists to emerging young talents to KSC’s own student performers. Over the years, the Redfern has expanded its outreach programs and community partnerships, becoming an indispensable resource for the Keene community and beyond.”
Music major junior Scott Pires says, “Having a designated spot just for the arts on campus really shows importance to the arts majors and I’m glad to be a part of a school who takes the arts seriously.” Former President Leo Redfern would be glad that his force for a more cultural school has paid off.
Deanna Caruso can be contacted at