Morgan to celebrate new fine arts center; 2,000-seat auditorium seen as premier venue; completion set in 2001


Morgan State University will break ground today on an arts center that officials hope will mark a fundamental change in their campus and its community.

"If you look at the Lyric, the Morris Mechanic, the Meyerhoff, Center Stage, and you say that collectively they make up a center for the arts in Baltimore, we think our new building will extend that center up into Northeast Baltimore," says school President Earl S. Richardson.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are scheduled to speak at the ceremony at 2: 30 p.m. today. The event, occurring in the midst of Morgan State's homecoming week festivities, is a formality because construction on the $40 million project started in the spring. Completion is scheduled for May 2001.

Set on a 15-acre tract, the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center marks the move of Morgan State across Argonne Drive, extending its campus to the south. The centerpiece of the 140,000-square-foot building will be a 2,000-seat auditorium, almost double the size of the hall in the school's 40-year-old arts building.

"In the past, when we have sponsored the visit of a Leontyne Price or Jessye Norman, we have had to take them downtown to the Lyric or some other venue," Richardson says. "When this center opens, we will be able to have them on our campus.

"That will bring people of different races, of different philosophies together," he says. "It is my belief that relationships between such people grow naturally out of such gatherings, not from forcing them to get together."

Richardson says he hopes the center will be in continual use with concerts, plays and other events that will bring more people to the Morgan

State campus, boosting economic development in the area and helping to change the image of the school in the minds of people who attend such events.

The project is also the first that Morgan State officials will be in charge of, from start to finish, without the direct oversight of state officials. Those powers were given to the two public schools -- Morgan State and St. Mary's College -- that remained independent from what now is the University System of Maryland when it was formed a decade ago.

Abraham Moore, Morgan State's vice president for finance and management, says this has made it easier to ensure that the building meets the needs of the university. But he says it also gives school officials a sense of self-respect, proving they can run such a project without anyone looking over their shoulders.

"When we finish, we know it will bring people onto the campus who have never been here before," Moore says. "They will appreciate what this institution has to offer. And when they see this building, they will see what a black university can accomplish."

In addition to the main concert hall, the building will contain a 300-seat theater, a 200-seat recital hall, practice rooms, classrooms, offices and studios.

It will also become the home of Morgan State's James E. Lewis Museum, greatly expanding the exhibit space available for the school's collection of African and African-American art, most of which is kept in storage in the basement of the arts building.

Museum director Gabriel S. Tenabe says the new space will allow about half the collection to be on display.

The building will bear the same name as the current arts center, that of the former publisher of the Afro-American newspaper who was the first African-American chairman of the board of what was then Morgan State College.

Carl Murphy was the son of John H. Murphy Sr., a former slave who founded the Afro-American newspaper after the Civil War. Carl Murphy became chairman of the Morgan board in 1953 and held that post until his death in 1967 at age 78. His great-granddaughter Francis Draper is on the school's Board of Regents.

After the groundbreaking for the arts center, a similar ceremony will be held for renovations to Hughes Stadium, the school's football facility. Set to begin in December and be completed in 2001, the $11.5 million project will increase seating capacity from 5,000 to 7,600, expand press and concession areas and add team dressing rooms.

The third event of the day will be a dedication of the renovations to Hill Field House, a $13.6 million two-year project that was finished this year. During the renovation -- which included a new floor for the gymnasium -- the Morgan State basketball team played its home games at other facilities.

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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