It all began in the 1990s with a small, determined group of Park City locals. This unsuspecting group of art-loving idealists had a hankering for a big city theater, a place where they could present blockbuster-style musicals to their neighbors and sophisticated visitors. Yes, the founders of the nonprofit Park City Institute, formerly Park City Performing Arts Foundation, envisioned Cats. With all due respect to Andrew Lloyd Webber, the community ended up with so much more.

After years of planning and fundraising and coordinating with the Park City School District on a unique, joint-use 1,200-seat theater, The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, flung open its doors in January 1998. None other than Bill Cosby graced the stage, christening both the theater itself and its Student Outreach Program with standing ovations.

Ever since, The Eccles Center has served as a community home for a diverse, world class smorgasbord of artists. Dancers. Musicians. Comedians. Authors. Filmmakers. Global and Cross-Cultural Spectacles. Children’s Entertainers. Wildlife Experts… The programming has run the gamut from rising stars, such as Nickel Creek (before folks knew much about the young, bluegrass prodigies) to Garrison Keillor.

There have been sold-out shows, such as Kristin Chenoweth and Savion Glover. There have been should-have-been-sold-out shows, such as the New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and the seven-piece swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. And in the midst of it all, The Eccles Center hosted a portion of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad and became the hub for Sundance Film Festival premieres. Fitting snugly into PCI’s outreach mission, filmmakers joined dancers, musicians and actors in the ever-expanding student and community programs. PCI’s after-school technical theater program began to churn out graduates savvy in the ways of lighting, sound and every aspect of the thrilling behind-the-scenes magic.

The foundation matured. The programming grew. The outreach blossomed.

The community lapped up the eclectic assortment of relatively intimate Eccles acts and began to clamor for big names, which meant a bigger venue. And in Park City’s glorious summertime, outdoor programming became a high priority for all involved.

In 2003, PCI began presenting the Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series at Deer Valley Resort’s gorgeous Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater. The jaw-dropping venue beckoned to fans with a wide range of stars, such as One Republic, Goo Goo Dolls, Dierks Bentley, Jewel and Martina McBride. And the list of Grammy-winning stars grows with each summer season.

With two stages in the spotlight, PCI never lost sight of community.

As PCI entered its second decade, the organization began incorporating TED (a conference-turned-nonprofit think tank of leaders in technology, entertainment and design) inspired ideas into its community efforts. Perhaps most notably, in 2009, The Mega-Genius Supply Store and IQ HQ, a literacy center fronted by a synapse-firing retail shop (modeled on author Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia) opened its doors. With each new Mega-Genius day, we’re learning that helping children simply by listening and asking the right questions is truly an art.

And so, the ripples from that long-ago, theater dream continue to spiral in our community’s increasingly global pond as we strive to:

Entertain. Educate. Illuminate.

With each new show, each new outreach experience, each new child that brings a story to a volunteer at The Mega-Genius Supply Store and IQ HQ, the Park City Institute continues to prove that art matters.

We are yet to present Cats.