Gift is largest ever to MICA

$6 million grant given by owner of Brown Capital Mgmt.

`Really important statement'

Money will fund building for new digital arts facilities

March 25, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The largest gift in the history of the Maryland Institute, College of Art will fund the school's first construction of an academic building in a century, a distinctive glass edifice that will overlook the city from Mount Royal Avenue.

The building will be named for Eddie and Sylvia Brown, whose $6 million grant will fund almost half its cost. Brown is owner of Brown Capital Management. Founded in 1983, it is one of the oldest African-American owned financial firms in the country.

"Certainly a gift of this magnitude is magnificent regardless of where it comes from," says Fred Lazarus, the president of MICA. "To have it come from someone in our community, and from an African-American, is a really important statement about the institute that sets a great example for the entire community."

Brown, a resident of Glen Arm, whose offices are on North Calvert Street, is known to millions around the country as a regular panelist on "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," the financial program produced by Maryland Public Television.

"Our minister once said, `Those who have been blessed should be a blessing,'" Brown says. "And that is what we try to be.

"Most of our contributions do go to support the African-American community," he says, noting programs at Howard University's business school and a family foundation that focuses on black education issues, as well as a gallery for Ethiopian art at the Walters Art Museum and $150,000 supporting the planned Maryland Museum of African American History and Culture.

"But we like to support the larger community as well," he says.

Anne S. Perkins, chairman of the MICA board, describes this as "a marvelously exciting time for us.

"We are overwhelmed by their generosity," she says. "It is a leadership gift in the true sense of every word.

"The fact that it is from an African-American businessman and his family is very, very important, particularly in this city and in the message it sends to the larger philanthropic community."

Sylvia Brown says it was clear the gift would have a large impact on the school.

"It seems to be a turning point for them," she says. "They are so excited about it, it makes us excited about it."

For such a large gift, the school and its donor had a whirlwind courtship. It began last fall when the Browns' daughter Tonya Ingersol entered the graduate painting program at MICA and he was asked to serve as one of two parents on the board of trustees.

As a board member, Brown saw the plans for the school's expansion including the new academic building designed by Charles Brickbauer.

"We had an opportunity to help make it happen and decided to step forward," he says.

The $12 million Brown Center, with its distinctive glass skin and abruptly angled exterior will provide an early 21st century counterpoint to the classic marble faM-gade of MICA's early 20th century Main Building directly across the street.

The school built dormitories on McMechen Street a decade ago, but Lazarus says those were designed mainly to blend in with the surrounding Bolton Hill neighborhood. That will not be the case with the Brown Center, which Lazarus clearly hopes will provide MICA with a distinctive architectural statement.

The Main Building, the last academic construction, was funded in part by a grant from Andrew Carnegie after the school's original building burned in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. In the years since its construction, the school's expansion has come from converting existing buildings, most notably the Mount Royal train station.

"This building was dedicated in 1907," Lazarus says, sitting in his office in the Main Building. "The new one will be dedicated in 2003. So it will be almost exactly a century between them."

Academically and artistically, the Brown Center will be decidedly 21st century, as most of its space will be dedicated to the growing field of digital arts such as video, animation and graphic design.

"What we are finding is that the electronic arts are becoming more integrated into the traditional disciplines of printmaking, photography and illustration," says Jan Stinchcomb, associate dean of academic affairs. "But these are also critical parts of what is a new emerging art form.

"We are very dedicated to this kind of emerging art area," Stinchcomb says. "We want to be one of the strongest programs in the country in this area."

The Brown Center will contain a 550-seat auditorium that MICA officials hope will attract community as well as campus events. The building will also form one side of what is planned as a new focal point for campus, a landscaped area on the north side of Mount Royal Avenue. The project will cost $16 million, including the $12 million for the new building.

Lazarus says with $2.9 million from the state of Maryland and commitments from Alonzo G. Decker, Alice F. Greif and the John J. Leidy Foundation, MICA has raised about 60 percent of the total. Brown designated $1 million of his gift as a challenge fund to be matched one-to-one to set up a $2 million endowment for the new building's operating expenses.

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