The William Inge Center for the Arts was founded in 1982 on the campus of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, in celebration and memory of Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winning playwright and native son, William Inge. Its initial event was a modest one-day commemoration of William Inge’s life. Now, the Inge Center’s showpiece event is the four-day internationally recognized William Inge Theatre Festival that has honored some of the world’s most prestigious playwrights. Arthur Miller, Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson, Neil Simon and Stephen Sondheim are some of those who have traveled to Independence to accept the Festival’s Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre Award. Other honors bestowed at the Festival include the Otis Guernsey New Voices in Playwriting award, which recognizes a peer-nominated emerging playwright, the Kansas Citizen for the Arts Award, for superlative artistic achievements by a Kansas native, the Margaret Goheen Award, for outstanding contributions to theater in Independence and surrounding area (named after the founder of the Festival), and the Jerome Lawrence Award for contributions to the Inge Festival and the national theatre by a non-playwright.
The William Inge Center for the Arts was founded as the William Inge Festival, later changing its name to the William Inge Theatre Festival. Since 2002, the Inge Center has significantly expanded its services, prompting a formal name change to the William Inge Center for the Arts in 2004. This was to avoid confusion with the annual William Inge Theatre Festival event.
Year-round programs include the professional Playwrights-in-Residence program. Accomplished playwrights come to live in William Inge’s historic family home and are provided time to work on new projects.
Since 2002 these resident playwrights have taught in the William Inge Center's Playwrights-in-the-Schools program, in partnership with area rural schools. The resident playwright instructors teach playwriting, serve as mentors and help students with their narrative writing skills, giving the students tools to express themselves and an outlet for describing what they see and experience in the world around them.
The Inge Center also conducts periodic Guest Artist presentations, providing artistic instruction by knowledgeable guest artists to school audiences as well as the general public. Partnering with the 24-Hour Company of New York City, the Inge Center sponsors three versions of the 24-Hour Plays, bringing students from various high schools and colleges in the region to work together to create new plays in a creatively intense pressure cooker that inspires wild artistic achievement and life-long friendships. Other programs and partnerships have included the Dana Foundation and Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education Aesthetic Education teaching artist and classroom teaching programs; Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Inge House Scholarship scenes and workshops, Educational Theatre Association (Thespians) playwriting scholarships, and Lecture-Demonstrations throughout the region on the legacy of William Inge.
The Inge Center has periodically commissioned and produced new work from past resident playwrights. Among these commissions is a partnership with the Cornerstone Theater of Los Angeles and the 5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg, KS to create and produce a new play written by Marcia Cebulska, documenting the recovery of Greensburg from the largest tornado in recorded history.
The Center continues to produce the annual William Inge Theatre Festival, a nationally renowned event that offers educational and cultural programming. In June of 2009 The William Inge Theatre Festival was named the Official State Theatre Festival of Kansas when Senate Bill 1 was signed by the Governor.
The William Inge Collection, comprising his many manuscripts, is housed at Independence Community College and is available to students and scholars who are interested in using it for research. The Inge Collection has a number of his scripts that have not been made public; in 2009 the Inge Center was proud to present several of these short plays, which are now published in “A Complex Evening: Six Short Plays by William Inge.” The Inge Collection has been the source of the 2010 New York premiere of another of Inge’s pareviously unseen work, "The Killing."