U receives $12 million for arts complex

By David Servatius, Staff Writer

The U has received a $12 million pledge from the Sorensen Legacy Foundation for the construction of a new interdisciplinary arts and public education center on campus.

U President Michael Young announced the pledge, which is the largest gift supporting the fine arts or arts education in the school’s history, noted the Board of Trustees meeting Monday morning.

Young said the main objective of the new center will be to conduct research and create teaching methods that integrate arts education with core subjects like math, science and history in Utah’s public schools.

“The effect of music and fine arts on a whole range of other aspects of children’s lives is tremendously important,” Young said. “As fine arts are enhanced and developed in our public education you see absenteeism go down, you see performance and behavioral problems reduced, as well as substantial and demonstrable increases in performance in mathematics, in science and in languages. The relationship between the arts and these other critical skills is just absolutely clear.”

The building will be named the Beverley Taylor Sorensen Arts and Education Complex. Beverley Sorensen is a former elementary school teacher and the founder of Art Works for Kids, an elementary school arts program that has provided more than 80,000 children with music, dance, theater and visual arts education.

“I just feel overwhelmed,” Sorensen said after the trustees formally approved plans for the new facility. “It’s like a miracle. The support we have been getting from the university is like a dream come true.”

“We are honored our efforts will continue Beverley Sorensen’s work and carry her name,” said Raymond Tymas-Jones, associate vice president for the arts and dean for the College of Fine Arts, in a statement.

Young said that educators from both the College of Fine Arts and the College of Education will work together with faculty from across the U to design innovative teacher education programs and train arts specialists for placement in elementary schools statewide.

“The combination of how to teach and what to teach in the arts is a prospect about which we are extraordinarily excited,” he said.

The new facility will house the Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program, as well as more classrooms, arts practice areas, performance venues, two university clinics and six research and outreach centers. These include the Utah Reading and Literacy Center, the Center for Math and Science Education, the Utah Education Policy Center and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center on Community of Caring.

Beverley Sorensen’s son, Jim Sorensen, said the new building is the realization of a vision his mother has had for almost 13 years and it will be particularly beneficial to students who don’t have access to arts education or who can’t afford to integrate the arts into their lives.

“As a family, we are touched by the problems that we face in many of our less affluent communities where gangs and other attractions seem to want to steal our youth,” he said. “We see this as a great tool in the arsenal against these kinds of destructive things.”

The new complex will be built at the southern end of campus adjacent to Milton Bennion Hall and just east of the David Eccles School of Business.

The project is estimated to be complete in 2011.

Young said design work will begin immediately and construction will move on a fast track.

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