George Washington University recently received a $2.5 million bequest intention to support theater and the arts from alumnus Marc Albert, B.A. ’70, J.D. ’73. The gift will establish three new endowed funds in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and also includes the donation of a collection of artwork.
Mr. Albert, a law partner at Stinson Morrison & Hecker, LLP, is an emeritus member of the Columbian College’s National Council for Arts and Sciences. His gift will endow three new funds: the Molly Albert Scholarship fund, named for Mr. Albert’s mother, which will provide an annual undergraduate scholarship for a student majoring or minoring in theater; the Rose Heiman Fund, named for Mr. Albert’s aunt, which will support the Department of Theatre and Dance’s MainStage productions; and the Sidney Albert, Michael Green and Stephen Tschida Fund, which will support the maintenance and stewardship of the art collection donated by Mr. Albert.
The gift is just one part of the overall picture of the arts at GW. For several years, an Arts Initiative steering committee has been working to develop a forward-looking and cohesive vision to tie together the many artistic ventures that are already happening at GW with new and planned programs.
“The Arts Initiative is an ongoing multiyear effort to place GW at the forefront of creative and cultural activity in the nation’s capital,” said Columbian College Dean Peg Barratt, who led the working group, composed of representatives from across the university. “The long-term vision is to further showcase our arts profile and make GW the venue for cultural education, research and performance.”
Arts Initiative committee member Dean Kessmann, an associate professor of photography and chairman of the Department of Fine Arts and Art History, said that while the committee has many long-term goals, including increasing the amount of campus performance and gallery space, its short-term goals are simply to increase the visibility of the arts on campus, help connect different departments and support creative work being done by faculty members and their students.
“We really want to build the capacity of the arts departments,” he said.
A number of important partnerships and programs that fall under the Arts Initiative umbrella have already been launched. These include the National Civil War Project, a multiyear, nationwide partnership of four universities and four professional theater organizations; a new building that will house The Textile Museum and a new George Washington University Museum, and the Phillips Collection Partnership and Fellowship, now in its third year, which brings contemporary artists to campus for a “Conversations with Artists” lecture series and also supports a postdoctoral fellow in modern art.
Renovations and improvements to Lisner Auditorium, GW’s historic performing arts venue, were also completed recently. These include state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, a new maple wood stage floor, new carpeting, reupholstered seats, new aisle lighting, a new air-conditioning system, fresh paint and new artwork from the GW permanent collection in the lobbies.
In addition to the physical changes to Lisner, several new leadership positions were filled to complement existing staff, said Michael Peller, assistant vice president for events and venues. And the venue staff is focusing on developing more comprehensive and diverse performance offerings.
Visiting artist-in-residence Patrick Killoran arrived on campus in January, and the Columbian College awarded its inaugural Incubator Studio Fellowships to three faculty members this year. The Incubator Studio Fellows program supports existing faculty members with a monetary award and a teaching release so they can focus on creative work. Next year, fellows—who can be from any department—will have a choice between three teaching release and funding options, providing flexibility that Mr. Kessmann said he hopes will encourage more faculty members to consider applying.
Douglas Boyce, an Arts Initiative committee member, an associate professor of music and chair of the Department of Music, is one of the three inaugural Incubator Studio Fellows. For his fellowship, Mr. Boyce is composing a new work for the Trio Cavatina, an award-winning trio that includes a violinist, a cellist and a pianist. The piece will be performed at the F Street House in November. He said one of the Arts Initiative’s most important goals is to help demonstrate what high-level creative work looks like for both faculty and students—and show how creative work is comparable to the research conducted by faculty members and students in other fields.
“We have strong artists here at GW, and it’s good for people to know that,” he said. “Things like the Incubator Studio Fellowships are our attempt to do things from the grassroots level. How can we impact students in the classroom and with faculty research?”
For the 2013-14 academic year, the Arts Initiative will support three artists-in-residence, all from D.C. These artists will receive a stipend and a research fund as well as be able to hire a Federal Work Study student to assist them. The artists-in-residence will also have the opportunity, if they desire, to do some teaching.
“We want to invest in the community and the neighborhood around the university,” Mr. Kessmann said. “One way we can do this is to provide 10-month residencies for local artists. We want to support local artists and scholars and have more artistic activity going on on campus.”
Martha Morris, an associate professor of museum studies and a member of the Arts Initiative committee, said another important part of the initiative’s vision is to reach out to community organizations to collaborate in ways that can benefit both the university and the community groups. For example, early plans are in the works for a children’s museum that will be located near the Fort Totten Metro station, on land owned by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. Ms. Morris has assisted with community assessments and other pre-planning activities for the museum, working with members of the community to determine what sorts of exhibits and themes might be included.
“This type of collaboration is in the early stages so far, but it’s a main pillar in our vision of the arts at GW,” she said.
The university’s new strategic plan addresses the role the liberal arts play in sparking creativity and innovation, said Provost Steven Lerman. The Arts Initiative is an important component of creativity at GW.
“The visual and performing arts will always be integral to a solid education in the liberal arts," he said.