Monday, April 07, 2008

Gifts for the Arts at MUHS

My alma mater, Marquette University High School, just announced that it is the recipient of two seven-figure gifts to underwrite improvements in the arts environment on the college preparatory school's Milwaukee campus. These large -- and welcome -- gifts will have a profound effect on the capacity of MUHS students to participate in the performing arts, as well as in various graphic and fine arts programs.

Writing in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dani McClain reports:

Two families have donated gifts totaling $2 million to expand the arts progam at Marquette University High School, school officials announced today.

Jerry and Donna O'Rourke have given $1 million to transform the school's auditorium into a performing arts center. School officials said today that they plan to improve the auditorium's acoustics, upgrade the lighting and add a large elevator to move instruments from the band room to the stage.

The auditorium is already named after the family because of a contribution the O'Rourkes made to renovate the space more than a decade ago. Jerry O'Rourke is a member of Marquette University High School's class of 1955, Dan Quesnell, a spokesman for the school, said today.

Ken and Karen Yontz' gift of $1 million will establish a new fine arts center that will include chorus and ensemble rooms, a graphics computer lab, a ceramics room and kiln and a darkroom.

The Business Journal of Milwaukee adds these details:

Marquette University High School is in the midst of a $14.2 million building project that includes a two-story addition featuring the Yontz Fine Arts Center connecting to the O'Rourke Performing Arts Center.

"The generous O'Rourke and Yontz gifts ensure that current and future students will experience the highest quality fine arts program," Sazama said in a press release.

Especially in my senior year, I spent many hours in the then-unnamed auditorium. (Regular readers may recall seeing video footage of the auditorium from the 1970s -- the Prep Players' production of Guys & Dolls in 1977, and "Blazing Seniors," the Senior Follies of the Class of 1977, which was actually produced in November 1976.)

At last year's "Great Homecoming," I was able to snap a few photographs of the auditorium, which really has not changed much at all over the past 30 years. I hope that the transformation promised by the million-dollar-plus endowment does not eliminate its mid-20th-century charm. I especially hope that the decades of autographs painted on the walls beneath the stage and in the wings are not harmed in the construction phase -- that is a historical record well worth preserving, visual evidence of the ghosts who haunt every theatre.

No doubt history will be on the minds of the actors, musicians, and crew members who take part in this weekend's production of Ragtime (reviewed here and here), as well as the audience members who go to see the Prep Players' version of the 1998 Tony-winning musical play, set in the turbulent turn of the 20th-century and dealing with issues of racial equality and immigration that still vex us today.

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