MACON — Trustees of the Atlanta-based Robert W. Woodruff Foundation have approved a $1.5 million grant to Mercer University to fund renovation of the historic Bell House on College Street to serve as home for the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings.
“We are deeply grateful to the Woodruff Foundation leadership for funding this major endeavor of the University,” Mercer President William D. Underwood said. “The Woodruff Foundation is known for its support of arts and education, and with this grant Woodruff is helping Mercer advance one of its marquee academic initiatives, which is rapidly becoming the finest strings program in the world.”
“I am extremely grateful to the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation for its generous and powerful vote of confidence in the mission of the McDuffie Center for Strings,” Center Founder and Mansfield and Genelle Jennings Distinguished University Professor Robert McDuffie said. “The Bell House is a magical and historical venue. It will be an inspirational home for the talented students of the Center as they continue their journey to becoming complete artists. I’m also happy for my hometown of Macon. The combination of classical music and the beauty of the Bell House will be a wonderful addition to Macon’s historic district. This day would not have been possible without the leadership of President Bill Underwood. His faithful support of the Center’s vision is the reason we have achieved so much success in such a short period of time.”
The McDuffie Center’s growth and development has created the need for a separate facility to house the program. With 125 students — 100 enrolled in the Townsend School of Music and 25 enrolled in the McDuffie Center for Strings — competing for the use of 16 practice rooms within the McCorkle Music Building, it became apparent that additional space would be necessary to facilitate the continued development of the Center while allowing Townsend students more access to McCorkle’s practice areas.
As the University evaluated various options to meet the Center’s need for space, the Bell House appeared to be an ideal solution. Built as a private residence between 1860 and 1865, the Bell House is an important historic landmark located at 315 College Street. In recent years the structure has been utilized for commercial purposes. The house was individually listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and is one of only 57 historic places in Macon to receive individual listing status.
Housed in this historic mansion, the Center will follow the model of other conservatories by converting a historic structure into its own space. The new building is perfectly suited to accommodate the Center’s enrollment limit of 26 students, with dedicated practice rooms and teaching spaces on the second floor, and a 60-seat performance hall on the first floor. This new facility will enhance the opportunities students have to fine-tune their musicianship by providing ample practice space and an intimate performance venue.
“I believe the renovation of this space will usher in a new era of performing arts at Mercer,” said Amy Schwartz Moretti, McDuffie Center for Strings director and Caroline Paul King Violin Chair. “The opportunity for our students and faculty to practice and perform in such an incredible space will be a great addition to our students’ educational experience. Our vision and dreams are now becoming reality.”
Renovating the Bell House will provide a larger facility for the Center for Strings while also preserving a historically significant structure, continuing a positive trend of historic preservation and economic growth in the College Hill Corridor between campus and downtown Macon. Mercer has previously acquired and repurposed several other historic structures in this district. When complete, this new space will not only enhance the educational experiences of program participants, but also greatly increase the Center’s visibility within the Central Georgia community.
In the recent past, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation provided financial support to Mercer for the 230,000-square-foot University Center and more recently with construction of the University’s new Science and Engineering Building.
About the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings
Founded as a special institute within Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, the McDuffie Center for Strings’ enrollment is limited to 26 students: 12 violinists, six violists, six cellists and two double bassists. The distinguished artists of the McDuffie Center perform, collaborate and record with the finest orchestras, string ensembles and conductors around the world. Each McDuffie Center student interacts with these distinguished artists on a regular basis, which enhances the students’ private lessons, master classes, chamber music coaching sessions and orchestral sectionals, all a part of their required curriculum. Combining this intensive, conservatory experience with the practicality of a specific business-oriented curriculum, the McDuffie Center for Strings prepares the entrepreneurial musician for success in the real world.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah – and four regional academic centers across the state. The Mercer Health Sciences Center launched July 1, 2012, and includes the University’s medical, nursing and pharmacy schools and will add a fourth college – the College of Health Professions – on July 1, 2013. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The University also has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. www.mercer.edu
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