WYSO’S NEW HOME: The McFarland Performing Arts Center

An invitation from McFarland’s School Superintendent, a brand new state-of-the-art performing arts center, and the changing picture at the UW all worked together to create an exciting new home where the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will be in residence.

The news from UW-Madison started trickling in a little at a time. First, Mills Hall, where WYSO had rehearsed almost every Saturday since the building opened, was scheduled to transform from concert to lecture hall. Then the UW began to reconsider whether pre-college programs should share space with university departments. And then, there was the growth of WYSO itself—from one full orchestra to three, plus two string orchestras, a chamber music program, a full array of ensembles, and the community-impact Music Makers.

Meanwhile, twelve minutes away, the town of McFarland opened an amazing 841 seat state-of-the-art performing arts center. And  incredibly, the adjacent middle & high school campus had enough rehearsal space to accommodate the entire WYSO program with room to grow—all of the student musicians, all of the orchestras, and all rehearsing at one time.

In a unique move of creative placemaking, McFarland School Superintendent Andrew Briddell reached out to WYSO and issued an invitation too exciting to pass up. All of the above opportunities, plus collaboration with the McFarland schools, staff, and community, and the ability to build on the creative history of the town itself.

In Fall of 2020, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will be in residence at the new McFarland Performing Arts Center!


Open for less than a year, the McFarland PAC is the result of inspired planning and innovation. It began in 2016 with a passed school referendum for $65 million dollars that would eventually touch every building in the McFarland School District. Of most interest to WYSO were the huge renovations at the McFarland High School and adjacent Indian Mound Middle School that resulted in over-sized choir and band rooms, a multi-purpose room/cafeteria, the remodeling of the previous performing art center into a black-box theater, and of course, the new Performing Art Center.

The project to build the new PAC began with the McFarland School District Performing Arts faculty and staff, who researched, brainstormed, and dreamed of a new space. Then the project moved to the award-winning Plunkett Raysich Architects. As they designed, they consulted with Bill Connor & Associates for the theater design, which included space planning, lighting, and mechanicals. What emerged was an orchestra pit below stage level, a full fly loft, and a great lighting system.

When it came to acoustics, in stepped the legendary Stan Roller and Associates, with a portfolio of projects ranging from Edgewood HS Auditorium in Madison to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland. The selected builder was JH Findorff & Son, well known around the Madison area for building the Overture Center for the Arts and The Stream at Edgewood College. According to Dr. Briddell, “Every member of this team did an amazing job of envisioning what the space could be and making the reality even better than our dreams.”

Since September 2019, the school district has been quietly trying out the performing and rehearsal spaces. The School Superintendent’s favorite part of this amazing new building?  “The PAC accommodates a large audience and yet has a very intimate feel of being close to the action onstage,” said Dr. Briddell. “The sight lines and acoustics are outstanding from every seat in the house.”

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