New Arts Grant Brings Big Improvements

Mary Baldwin University’s main events forum, James D. Francis Auditorium, is getting a major upgrade thanks to a new grant from the Rea Charitable Trust. Music and film programs will also see improvements.

The $150,000 gift will fund numerous improvements — including state-of-the-art stage lighting, live-streaming equipment, studio recording system, and more. It is the seventh grant the Texas-based trust has awarded to support MBU arts programming since 2017, bringing total donations to around $1 million.  

“This latest grant continues the generous legacy of Isabel McClintic Rea, a music major who  graduated from Mary Baldwin in 1939,” said university President Pamela R. Fox. “These gifts have funded critical projects and dramatically improved learning experiences for our music and performing arts majors. We are enormously grateful for this funding, as the arts have been central to our institution since its founding.”

New improvements to Francis Auditorium will enhance concert, lecture, and performance experiences for students and community members alike.

MBU’s relationship with the Rea Trust began with an unexpected 2016 phone call. 

A trust executor “called out-of-the-blue saying they had some extra funds to disperse and encouraged us to apply [for a grant],” said music department chair and professor, Lise Keiter. 

Though the trust was established in 2009 with a mission of “promoting the arts and perpetuating Mrs. Rea’s love [thereof],” it had yet to work with Mary Balwin. Keiter reached out to current Gold College of Arts and Sciences dean and vice president, Paul Menzer, and the two quickly got to work on an application.

Not only was their proposal accepted, they were encouraged to apply for an additional grant each year — and every application to date has been funded. 

“Students working in theatre, art, music, and dance have profoundly profited from transformations the trust’s generosity have made possible,” Menzer wrote in his and Keiter’s latest Rea proposal. 

Past donations helped upgrade heating and cooling systems, and renovate classrooms, art studios, lobbies, and the theatre of Bertie Murphy Deming Fine Arts Center. Gifts funded new Steinway pianos and repaired existing ones for the music department.

Menzer says the latest round of funding will primarily focus on improvements for Francis Auditorium. 

The space will soon boast a state-of-the-art LED stage lighting system with modern, user-friendly controls. The system will be augmented by professional quality audio and video equipment — including a 4k projector, speakers, cameras, and microphones. Combined, the improvements will equip the auditorium with top-of-line live streaming capabilities for events.

The remaining grant money will bolster offerings in the music and film departments. The music lab will get new electronic keyboards and studio-grade recording equipment. The film lab will benefit from new cameras, lights, microphones, post-production computers, and monitors. 

“Our focus here turns to students exploring creative expression in new media,” wrote Menzer in the proposal. We want to open new doors of possibility for “young pioneers in both digital and traditional filmmaking, as well as sound and recording expression.”

The new equipment is in the process of being acquired, and installation is expected to be completed by Dec. 2023. 

“The arts have long held a place of prominence at Mary Baldwin,” Menzer said. “And we aim to continue to offer arts programs of superior quality by keeping our facilities and equipment up-to-date, by expanding the range of creative expression available to students, and enhancing access to events offerings through enhanced in-person experiences and high-quality online streaming.”

“This latest grant continues the generous legacy of Isabel McClintic Rea ’39. These gifts have funded critical projects and dramatically improved learning experiences for our music and performing arts majors. ”

MBU President Pamela R. Fox