Passion for the Arts at the McKnight Center

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Following an extensive national search, on March 3, 2017, Oklahoma State University announced Mark Blakeman has been selected as the inaugural Marilynn and Carl Thoma Executive Director of The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at OSU. The McKnight Center is expected to open in October 2019. At 93,000 square feet, it will be OSU’s center for the arts with residency partnerships, educational opportunities for OSU students, and national programs. The Thomas – both OSU alumni – endowed the Executive Director position with a $5 million dollar gift made earlier this year. Mr. Blakeman will be the first to serve in the newly created position.

“Marilynn and I believe in the power of the arts to connect people and enrich learning,” commented Carl Thoma. “When we heard about The McKnight Center and the innovative vision driving its programming, we wanted to get involved. Supporting this position and bringing in a prestigious leader like Mark was critical to us. We are confident Mark will bring the inspirational leadership necessary to create a robust, invigorating center. We are excited about the future of The McKnight Center, which will enrich the university and community, and will have far-reaching impact on a national level.”

Mark Blakeman is the current president and CEO of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. As the Marilynn and Carl Thoma Executive Director, Blakeman will provide overall leadership, including operations, strategic planning and execution to the Center while working with the McKnight Foundation Board of Trustees.

“Serving as the Marilynn and Carl Thoma Executive Director for The McKnight Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create programs, productions and experiences for a spectacular, new first-class center at a university with a heart for the arts,” said Blakeman. “The support for the center is incredible as underscored by the remarkable gifts from several individuals, including Billie and Ross McKnight and the Thomas. They have given a wonderful gift, and I am eager to do my part to ensure The McKnight Center becomes a vital part of OSU, Stillwater and beyond.”

More information about the planned McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University is available at

This gift to The McKnight Center was made possible by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, established in 1986 to fulfill the Thomas’ broad passion for philanthropy, and is outside the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation’s organizational grant programs.