A $10 million donation from philanthropist D. Suzi Osher, the largest-ever monetary gift to the University of Southern Maine, moves forward the long-held dream of a first-class home for the USM School of Music on its Portland campus.
“It moves it from the realm of ‘I think we can do this’ to ‘I know we can do this,’ and that has been a 30-year process,” said USM President Glenn Cummings, who has championed the school of music’s need for a new building since he arrived on campus in 2014. “We’ve had lots of fans of our music program over the years and they needed a vision that was workable and exciting, and now we have it.”
The Osher gift, announced at a press briefing Tuesday, follows a $5 million gift in June from the Crewe Foundation. Ainsley Wallace, USM Foundation president, said she hopes philanthropy pays for “half or more” of the total cost of the building, estimated at between $38 million and $42 million and to be located near Bedford Street and Deering Avenue on the Portland campus. Cummings said, “we are probably a few million dollars short of where we want to be, but we are very close.”
The next step will be seeking permission from University of Maine System trustees in October to spend $1 million of the money already raised to prepare specific design documents that will allow the university to “get us ready for a biddable project,” Wallace said. “The earliest we anticipate breaking ground for construction would be 2023, and that is all dependent on the ongoing support of the trustees” and the city of the Portland.
Suzi Osher gave the gift in honor of her late husband, Dr. Alfred Osher, and the music school will be named in honor of both of them, Cummings said.
“Suzi’s philanthropy is overwhelming. She loves students, she loves music and she loves and supports education. We are very blessed that she is helping make this dream come true.”
In a statement, Osher said that music was a passion, and she was honored to support the school of music. “I know my late husband Alfred would be proud to have his name attached to such an outstanding program at the University,” she said.
As envisioned, the single-story building will have a performance hall with about 200 seats, flexible classroom and rehearsal spaces, sound-proof studios, as well as a visual arts gallery and the Kate Cheney Chappell Center for Book Arts. Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus, the longtime home for the school of music, will continue to be used for first- and second-year music students, and USM is exploring other uses.
“The arts are not leaving Gorham,” Wallace said. “Corthell is a great building for student seminars, and dance is our fastest-growing minor. There is talk that dance could take up more space there, and there will be more space for the visual arts, as well,” she said. “Corthell is a very well-used building, but not well-used for music.”
The USM theater department will continue to present many of its productions in Russell Hall in Gorham, she added.
Alan Kaschub, director of the school of music, called the Osher gift “a game-changer for USM” because it gives the university the chance to build a music building from scratch, with education and performance as top priorities. He noted that USM music school graduates have won Grammy Awards and sung on the world’s finest stages. In addition, USM music graduates teach choral and band across the state and across the country.
“It will be a facility that is worthy of the individual students we have and the amazing faculty we have,” he said. “To me, the exciting part about it is that it has been such a long time coming. Everyone has been talking about this forever.”
Among USM music school school graduates are sopranos Ashley Emerson and Megan Marino, who have sung at the Metropolitan Opera and across the world. French horn player Andrew Pelletier has won a Grammy Award.
Kaschub has said the school of music, which has about 150 students and offers 14 degree and certificate programs, could nearly double its enrollment by moving most of its programming to Portland.
Cummings said the new building will reward the school’s reputation for excellence while also opening up audiences in Portland.
“It will allow artists to integrate deeply and meaningfully into the arts community of Portland, which is extremely rich,” he said. “Corthell has its strengths and weaknesses, and one of its weaknesses was location. This new location in Portland allows people to access our arts programming and our music programming in a much deeper and more meaningful way.”
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