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$3 million gift launches ETSU arts building campaign

Rex Barber • Feb 14, 2013 at 9:52 PM

Chelsea Kinser and Hannah Hasch were thrilled when East Tennessee State University’s president announced Thursday a $3 million gift to kick-start fundraising for a fine and performing arts center and new arts initiative at their school.

“We are so excited, not only for our generation but for the upcoming generations that are going to be involved in this program,” Kinser said. “Our facilities are not what they should be. We need more and we’re finally getting more.”

Kinser, a senior, and Hasch, a junior, are both majoring in theater and minoring in dance. The students were among those in attendance Thursday at the Millennium Centre when ETSU President Brian Noland announced that Jim Martin has given $3 million toward the construction of a new fine and performing arts center, something Noland said has been discussed as a needed aspect of ETSU since at least 1986.

“Today begins the next step in a more than 30-year dream for ETSU and the citizens of East Tennessee,” Noland said.

In his proposed 2013-14 budget, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recommended approval for ETSU to use $1.5 million to begin planning for the arts center, which is projected to cost approximately $38 million. ETSU will be required to fund 25 percent of that project.

Should the budget be approved, ETSU would be able to use that $1.5 million beginning July 1. The hope is the $9.5 million would be raised by July 2014 and the state will provide the rest of the $38 million to begin construction at that time.

Martin has provided substantial financial support for the school through the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, and this lead gift of $3 million will bring his total giving to $7 million. The school of the arts is named in honor of Martin’s late wife.

Hasch said faculty in all of ETSU’s arts-related courses are amazing and new facilities will enhance the school.

“ETSU has changed my life, and so to know that it’s going to continue doing that in the future is amazing, like it’s wonderful and exciting,” Hasch said.

Jim Martin said he gave the money because it was needed and he is very committed to the arts as part of a well-rounded education.

“Give till it hurts,” was Martin’s challenge to the rest of the region in ETSU’s efforts to raise the rest of the $9.5 million.

Noland said the $9.5 million goal is only the minimum amount to get the building built. Noland said a new arts initiative on campus will expand arts programs, renovation of current facilities and scholarships, endowments and graduate assistantships.

Members of the Committee for 125, formed in 2012 to develop a plan for ETSU’s next 25 years, have discussed establishing a free-standing College of the Arts.

Noland said that free-standing college will be discussed further, but the idea would be a college that houses everything arts related, including bluegrass, art, theater, music and dance.

First, though, the fine and performing arts center must be built, and that will require a massive fundraising campaign, Noland said.

He equated this fundraising effort to the one for the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy in 2005. That year ETSU was approved for a college of pharmacy if it could raise $5 million in 12 weeks. Money came in quickly and the goal was soon met. That was considered the most successful fundraising campaign in the school’s history.

“This is as large, if not larger,” Noland said. “The time frame is a little bit more extended; we have until July of next year, but the initiative to provide the match for the facility provides the beginning of an effort, as Dr. (Paul) Stanton mentioned, to fund scholarships, endow chairs, etc.”

Stanton, who preceded Noland as president, has been named as chairman of the arts initiative campaign. The rest of the committee will be named soon.

Lot 1 is a possible location for the fine arts center, although negotiations are ongoing with the city of Johnson City for that property. Lot 1 is a piece of land across West State of Franklin Road from the university and adjacent to Millennium Centre. ETSU had been interested in buying this property for years and was even approved for a purchase price of $1.1 million by the State Building Commission. But that price is old now and likely not valid.

“We’re confident we will be able to build this facility next door to the Millennium Centre; however, if things do not come to fruition we do have an alternate location on campus,” Noland said. “But it’s our hope and our intent to partner with the city, to partner with the business community to create a facility that celebrates not only the best of ETSU but the best of East Tennessee.”

Noland explained that a fine and performing arts center is needed to provide a large venue in Johnson City to hold major performances for the people of this region to see. He said the ETSU Chorale performs across the area because there is not a building on campus large enough to accommodate performances. The largest venue on campus is the D.P. Culp Center auditorium that seats around 850, but that is not conducive to a performance like that of the Chorale or a play.

“So there’s nowhere on campus for us to celebrate the arts,” Noland said. “So this really doesn’t replace anything. It establishes something that we’ve never had in the history of the university.”

The new performing arts center has not yet been designed, but it would include a 1,400-seat concert hall, a 500-seat recital hall and a gallery space.

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