Written by Audrey Olena
Megaphone Staff Writer
On December 10, 1999, the Southwestern University Board of Trustees voted to change the name of Southwestern’s School of Fine Arts to “The Fayez S. Sarofim School of Fine Arts” due to the generous donations of Mr. Fayez Sarofim, a native of Egypt who founded Fayez Sarofim & Company, a Houston-based investment firm in 1958.
In 1968, Mr. Sarofim began to donate generously to the fine-arts facilities at Southwestern, reflecting his intense passion for artistic endeavors. The contributions to the SSFA totaled about $10 million, clearly demonstrating Mr. Sarofim’s dedication to the fine-arts cause.
This Friday, the Sarofim School of Fine Arts held a ceremony to dedicate the new Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center, honoring Sarofim as well as numerous other benefactors who helped contribute to the school’s success. Unfortunately, Fayez Sarofim himself was unable to be at the ceremony, but his son, Christopher Sarofim, represented him.
In addition to much-needed renovations to the Alma Thomas Theater, Sarofim’s donations enabled Southwestern to build a new lobby for the ATT, new practice rooms, storage space including student lockers, new faculty offices, a new entrance to the west side of the building and an expansion which enables more room backstage. In addition, the music rehearsal hall was renovated and expanded, and the atrium in the center of the building was expanded to include a new design studio for students.
Dr. Eileen Russell, a professor who recently joined the Southwestern faculty, remarked that the new facilities give a very different feel to the SSFA.
“Suddenly, we’re all together in these beautiful new surroundings,” Russell said, “and the accessibility is just wonderful.”
Russell also noted that “one of the things that’s so great about Southwestern is that we have this school of fine arts, not just music, or theatre, or [visual art].”
She praised the SSFA and the new building for its unity in bringing the arts together, remarking that everyone can now “experience all of the fine arts together” in the new space.
SU senior Meredith Orf remarked that she could “barely remember the old theater” but hopes that “the renovations prove to be well worth the time spent on them.”
Orf also noted that she was “excited about the orchestra pit and the diva shell.”
This February, Meredith performed her senior capstone recital on the stage “after missing it for over two years.”
Dr. Kiyoshi Tamagawa, the chair of the music department at SU, is “very pleased that the renovation of the Fine Arts Center is finally finished,” as the construction “took almost a year longer than was originally envisioned.”
Tamagawa noted that it was quite difficult for faculty, staff and students during construction because of the noise, and he still finds it “a bit peculiar teaching without any construction noise or shouting workmen somewhere in the background!”
The music department “has benefited greatly from the new, updated theater,” Tamagawa said. “Students have already told me that they are happy with the new, acoustically treated practice rooms,” and while before construction faculty often had to cram into practice rooms or dressing rooms instead of proper offices, faculty “finally have large, quiet spaces in which to work and teach.” (Tamagawa kept his old office to allow newer faculty to have the recently built offices, however.)
“There have been some marvelous musical events in [the newly renovated] ATT, and I look forward to more,” Tamagawa noted. “Most of all, though, I am happy about just being able to walk from one end of the building to the other without having to go outside and pick my way around the construction and earth-movers.”
Friday’s afternoon ceremony opened with a rousing performance of “Tradition,” the opening number from “Fiddler on the Roof,” which began its four-day run Thursday night to an enthusiastic audience.
The reaction from the crowd at the Sarofim dedication was no less; after a rousing and eager performance by the actors and orchestra, thunderous applause resounded through the brilliant acoustics of the newly renovated, 700-seat Alma Thomas Theater.
At Friday’s dedication, the 700 seats were filled mostly with alumni, benefactors and faculty, with a fair sprinkling of students. All of the smartly dressed audience members responded enthusiastically to each featured speaker, the first of which was Dr. Paul J. Gaffney, dean of the SSFA.
Gaffney commented briefly on the excellence of the “Fiddler” performance, moving forward to introduce the speakers – as well as to thank Christopher Sarofim and the numerous other benefactors who were present. Gaffney noted the previously mentioned renovations to the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center, sparking more thunderous applause from the audience.
Jake Schrum recalled one of his first experiences as SU president, a position he still holds, which was a visit to Fayez Sarofim to thank him for the generous donations, to which Mr. Sarofim famously responded, “Let’s see what you can do with it.”
The first Fayez Sarofim Passion for the Arts Award was presented by Gaffney, who explained that the award was created in order to honor a Southwestern senior whose passion for the arts has been clearly demonstrated despite his or her major. Alice Quo, a seven-semester member of the Dean’s List, received the award for her artistic passion and vision.
Finally, Christopher Sarofim responded to the day’s events with a speech receiving Southwestern’s gratitude, just before the Southwestern University Chorale closed the program with “The Road Home,” a melody which soared over the audience from the balcony, where the choir was stationed.
The reception afterwards was jovial and bustling, as the audience gathered in the new atrium to view SU students’ artwork that on display. All of the fine arts, theater, music and visual art were demonstrated on Friday, illustrating the enormous amount of talent that the SSFA’s students and professors have.
Mr. Sarofim challenged SU to “see what you can do with [the money]”; every attendee of the Sarofim dedication would probably agree that the challenge has been more than adequately answered.