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Performance Center to get $20 million boost

September 16, 2008 By Chris DuPre

Two anonymous donors have made a commitment of $20 million in support of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music’s future Performance Center on the northwest corner of University Avenue and Lake Street.

Photo of John Wiley and Biddy Martin

Outgoing Chancellor John Wiley invites incoming Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin to join in announcing two anonymous donor gifts totaling $20 million — designated to support the East Campus Gateway and development of a new performance hall — during “An Evening of Celebration to Benefit Artists of Future” at Overture.

Photo: Jeff Miller

The commitments were announced Monday night during an “Evening of Celebration” at the Overture Center for the Arts, which featured student performances in music, drama and dance in celebration of the career of former Chancellor John D. Wiley. Both Wiley and current Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin informed the audience of the major development.

The center will have approximately 56,000 square feet of space and contain two concert halls. One will have 800 seats, while a recital hall will hold 350 patrons. In addition, the performance facility will house a box office, dressing rooms, support services, recording studio, a lobby and green room.

The commitments represent the latest progress in an ambitious campaign to transform a core region of campus known as the East Campus Gateway. Many elements of the project will directly support the arts and humanities, including an expanded Chazen Museum of Art, consolidated space for the Department of Art and a modernizing of Music Hall. The Chazen addition is expected to start in 2009.

“A great university should provide superb arts facilities for its talented faculty, staff and students, and these developments along the East Campus Gateway are going to help the arts achieve their full potential at UW–Madison,” says Wiley. “The gateway project was one of my top priorities as chancellor, and I know that Chancellor Martin shares the same passion and commitment to making this area of campus a true showcase for the university community, the general public and our alumni.”

“These two commitments are acts of outstanding generosity and humility from anonymous friends of the university,” says Martin. “They not only continue the tremendous momentum we’ve experienced in reshaping the East Campus Gateway, they also serve as a fitting honor to Chancellor John Wiley and his inspiring legacy as both a patron and a champion of the arts in Wisconsin.”

If the Performance Center project progresses as planned, an architect search will begin in early 2009, with construction leading to an opening performance in spring 2013.

Photo of encore

More than 200 performers gather on stage and take a bow at the end of “An Evening of Celebration to Benefit Artists of Future” at Overture Hall.

Photo: Jeff Miller

This space will create a synergy with the Overture Center for the Arts and other community resources in Madison. The School of Music is proud of its prominence as one of the top 10 public schools of music in the United States. Outstanding international faculty artists and scholars are fulfilling the school’s fundamental mission of fostering and promoting the global cultural art of music. The 60-member faculty maintains a dedicated focus on individual student achievement, utilizing the vast resources of the Madison campus.

Adds John Schaffer, director of the School of Music: “We are overjoyed at the prospect of building new concert facilities for the School of Music. The halls we are looking to build will not only give our students and faculty the opportunity to perform and record in truly world-class spaces, but will also be of a size and nature as to serve a completely complementary role with the bigger halls in the Overture Center. What is most amazing is that there are individuals who still value the fine and performing arts to such a high degree that they are willing to give so generously. I am truly overwhelmed by the generosity and commitment.”

Established in 1895, the School of Music reflects the Wisconsin Idea of practical service to the state and its residents. The music degree program, organized in 1915, emphasizes training for public school music teachers. In 1939, the school gained distinction with the creation of the first musical artist-in-residence position at any American university. During the 1995-1996 season, the school’s 100th anniversary celebration featured an ambitious six-work commissioning project that brought worldwide attention.

The School of Music is the largest provider of music performances in Wisconsin outside of the greater Milwaukee area and the largest single presenter of chamber music anywhere in the state. The school holds more than 300 concerts per year, and most are free. The summer Music Clinic for junior high and high school students is the second oldest in the United States.

Since 1960, enrollment has nearly doubled. Fifty years ago, more than half of the school’s students majored in music education. Today, about three-quarters are music performance majors.

There has been a similar shift in the balance of undergraduates to graduates, to where they are now about equal in number. This evolution has resulted in a significant growth in performance opportunities and expectations, which, in turn, has increased not only the school’s visibility and stature but also the challenges that accompany success. This performance space would be the first step in meeting those demands.

Next in line is a School of Music education space on Lake Street, north of the Performance Center. That building would be approximately 160,000 square feet. It would feature two small recital halls, four rehearsal halls and 100 practice rooms. Dedicated chamber music rehearsal rooms, faculty studios and offices, classrooms, administrative offices and all support staff and facilities would be housed in that building.