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Landmark Donation to Fund $45M Arts Center at UCA

4 min read

The fog has lifted for Terry Wright, and along with the rest of the University of Central Arkansas community, he has a clear vision of the future of the arts on campus and beyond.

On Tuesday, before a packed ballroom, UCA President Houston Davis announced a $20 million gift from the Windgate Foundation — the largest such gift in the school’s 111 years — to support the planned Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts to be constructed on campus.

“Today we take a great leap forward together,” Davis said, announcing the gift to a standing ovation from the students, board of trustees members, Windgate Foundation representatives and faculty making up the standing-room-only crowd gathered at UCA’s McCastlain Hall.

For Wright, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, it was something of a relief to air the secret he had kept for a week and to anticipate the impact the new arts center would have on the program, the community and the region.

“I walked around in a fog for a week,” Wright said. “I was hoping we’d get a gift. I didn’t expect it to be this much.”

The school’s previous largest gifts included $5.6 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for the Reynolds Performance Hall in 1996 and $3 million from the Conway Corporation in 2014 to build the Conway Corporation Center for Sciences.

Plans for the $45 million, 114,000-SF arts center project include 44,000 SF of art space; an exterior space for three-dimensional art; an art gallery; a 450-seat concert hall designed for orchestra, choir, band and ensemble performances; and a proscenium theater that will allow for a wide range of theatrical performances, including musical theater and opera.

A total of $19 million will be used for the new construction and $1 million will be added to the Windgate Scholarship Fund established within the UCA Foundation in 2005. The remainder of the project will be funded through additional private gifts and other resources.

Wright anticipated the consolidation of the arts programs and courses the facility would provide and sees the center as a hub of artistic endeavor promoting interdisciplinary collaboration between the visual arts, theater and music.

“The fine and performing arts here have been spread from one end of campus to another,” Wright said.

The facility will be situated at the corner of Donaghey and Bruce streets and will fill the need for class, studio, rehearsal and design space. Davis said the arts programs at UCA had been at capacity for the better part of a decade.

Davis noted that the Department of Art was one of  the eight original departments dating to UCA’s founding as a teachers college in 1907. More than 250 students major or minor in art, Davis said, and another 750 major in other fine arts or communication areas.

“This historic gift raises the baseline,” Davis said.

Established in 1993, the Windgate Foundation has been a longtime supporter of arts education from K-12 to higher learning. The foundation has awarded $405,000 worth of scholarships to more than 30 UCA students since the scholarship fund was established.

“This is just the beginning,” said Windgate Foundation Executive Directory Patricia Forgy, acknowledging an almost 20-year relationship with the university. “We do hope the many friends and donors of UCA will offer their support.”

UCA officials said the new center will raise the school’s profile as a regional arts leader.

“Something that will expand for generations,” Wright said.

Upperclassmen Grayson Ruple of Bryant and Louise Mandumbwa of Botswana, Africa, will have earned their degrees by the time the center is built, but they were invited to speak as advocates and beneficiaries of the arts program Tuesday.

Ruple, whose emphasis is on graphic design, noted a 2018 report by the U.S. Commerce Department and the National Endowment of the Arts that showed the arts generating $763.6 billion a year to the economy, outpacing the contribution of agriculture and providing 4.2 percent of the GDP. The statistics were gathered from 1998-2015.

Job opportunities are out there within the arts, Grayson said, and the new center could help enhance the UCA art program’s contribution to the workforce.

“I think it could put UCA on the map,” he said.

Mandumbwa, a transfer from UA-Pulaski Tech whose emphasis is on painting, said her host family recommended UCA and she has no regrets. With examples of her work decorating the ballroom on Tuesday, Mandumbwa, who is looking into graduate school, was as happy anticipating the future of the arts at UCA as everyone else present.

“Even though I might not directly benefit from this I think it’s really huge for all the students who will come after,” she said.

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