This Oklahoma Power Couple Just Gave Local Performing Arts a Huge Boost

If you haven’t heard of Ross and Billie McKnight and how they've become major players in promoting the arts in Oklahoma, then now is a great time to get up to speed with what they've been doing lately.

The McKnights just made headlines with its $25 million gift to Oklahoma State University to establish a performing arts center on the Stillwater campus. This event space will span 93,000 square feet, have 1,100 seats, and be named The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to the main performance center space, there will also be a 222-seat recital hall and an outdoor amphitheater with a large viewing screen here.

With this money, the university will welcome national and international performing arts productions in a way that is unparalleled in the region. You can expect to find more symphonies, traveling musical groups, and once-in-a-lifetime performances at the new arts center when it opens in 2019. The McKnights are very focused on music as an art form of choice, as their new grant will also create a home for the Department of Music and its master class curriculum.

“Billie and I made this commitment to fulfill the vision of the performing arts center to expand the number and type of cultural opportunities available at Oklahoma State through vibrant performances and educational experiences,” said Ross McKnight. “We see our gift enabling students at Oklahoma State to achieve their fullest potential through interaction with some of the finest artists in the world. We believe these experiences will inspire students to express their own talents through music and performance.”

Hailing from Throckmorton, Texas, the McKnights made their fortune in banking, ranching, and oil. They both graduated from Oklahoma State University and regularly show support for their alma mater. McKnight earned a bachelor's degree in animal science in 1971, and Ms. McKnight earned a bachelor's degree in general business in 1973.

And this certainly isn’t the first time that the McKnights have shown their support for the Oklahoma State University Foundation in Stillwater. Back in 2010, the couple gave $15 million to establish a student leadership and scholarship program for students from rural communities. The OSU McKnight Scholars Leadership Program, which began in 2011 with a $11 million gift, supports about 50 students each year. The couple likes to support diverse out-of-state students who have a passion for rural America and want to influence its future. The McKnights also donated $2 million to the university back in 2003.

So for now, it seems like the McKnights are squarely focused on music and education in Oklahoma with their grantmaking. Although they live in Texas, they haven’t yet picked up on local causes in the Lone Star State. However, this is definitely a couple to watch in the years ahead to see if their giving grows, expands, or shifts as the years pass and they and become more involved in the world of philanthropy.