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 Montpelier Magazine

Time to turn to the arts

Less than a month before he died, President John F. Kennedy said, "I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of beauty and grace ... an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft."

James Madison University has always shared President Kennedy's commitment to the arts. The fine and performing arts have been a vital part of JMU's curriculum since the institution was founded nearly 100 years ago. Although established with the primary role of training teachers, the new institution included course work in art and music in its earliest years.

By the 1930s, Madison was offering bachelor's degrees in the arts, and these programs had become an integral part of the JMU tradition -- a heritage that stretches from the College Glee Club of the 1930s to the current 400-member Marching Royal Dukes, from the Stratford Dramatic Club to today's first-rate theater productions.

JMU alumni throughout the nation are making their mark in the world of the arts. You've read about many of them in Montpelier. The subject of this issue's cover story, Karen McCullah Lutz ('88), has won acclaim as a screenwriter (See Page 20). Phoef Sutton ('81), Don Rhymer ('82) and Barbara Hall ('82) have been resoundingly successful as television and film writers and producers. Steve James ('77) made the Oscar-nominated documentary film, Hoop Dreams. The watercolors of David Gill ('76) are displayed nationally, and his works are in high demand at the biennial JMU Art Auction. Trey Ellett ('92) had the lead in the Broadway smash hit musical,Rent. When he was a student, theater alumnus Jerome Hairston ('98) won the National Student Playwrighting Award and JMU staged his play, Carriage, at the Kennedy Center.

Members of the fine and performing arts faculty have also received high acclaim. To name only a few: art professor James H. Crable has won the Virginia Prize for Visual Arts; music professor J. Patrick Rooney received a statewide Outstanding Faculty Award; art professor Steven A. Zapton received a Virginia Museum of the Fine Arts Fellowship; music professor John S. Hillard composed a work for President Clinton's inauguration; theater professors Thomas H. Arthur and Roger Allan Hall, both recipients of outstanding teacher awards, have entertained thousands with their top-notch theater productions.

Our programs, faculty and students in the arts are clearly of the highest quality, but, unfortunately, the physical facilities they must use daily fall short.

During the past two decades, JMU has made dramatic improvements in its academic facilities: for business and education in the 1980s and for science and technology in the 1990s.

It is now time to turn to the arts.

Only one new fine arts facility, the Music Building, has been added to our campus since the 1960s. Even in that case, the building's recital hall was eliminated because of cost concerns.

There are extreme examples of making do. Our experimental theater is housed in a former chicken hatchery built in 1922; the School of Theatre and Dance shares its facility with an area for lawn mower storage and repair.

One of my goals as president is to dramatically enhance the facilities for the fine and performing arts -- to develop an arts complex that will match the professional quality of our faculty, students and alumni.

We are seeking funds in the 2002-2004 biennium to construct a $41 million center for the arts and a $28 million music recital hall (See Page 5). Those proposals are part of a six-year capital outlay plan approved by the JMU Board of Visitors. A proposal to renovate Duke Hall, the center for our art programs, falls into a later stage of the plan.

I envision a spectacular arts complex - one including a center for the arts, a music recital hall and related facilities - situated across Main Street from the origi-nal JMU campus where Anthony-Seeger Hall and several university-owned houses are now located.

Our arts faculty and students, though operating in subpar facilities, have personi-fied professionalism, and their efforts have produced tremendous success. With better facilities, there is no limit to what JMU programs and successful alumni in the fine and performing arts could produce.

Linwood H. Rose, President