“Build it and they will come” is a truism that not only applies to baseball fields in Iowa but also to arts centers in Bowie if the turnout this past Saturday at Bowie State University is any indication.
“It’s a fabulous building,” says Lucy Austin, who lives in Fort Washington and came with her husband to a black-tie gala to mark the official opening of the university’s new Fine and Performing Arts Center.
“The theater’s acoustics are equivalent to the Kennedy Center,” says Austin, who serves on the board of Leadership Prince George’s. “It’s a great venue for Prince George’s County I intend to come frequently.”
Hundreds of arts supporters and public officials attended the evening event hosted by the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council and the university’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts, which currently serves about 400 students.
“It’s made us feel like we’ve moved to another level,” says senior music major Adia Wright, who lives in Cheverly. “It’s state of the art, with choir rooms and music practice rooms.”
The $71 million arts center, which opened to students in January, includes performance spaces, along with studios for music recording, dance, painting, sculpture, ceramics, print making and photography.
Wright performed on stage Saturday with the university’s Madrigal group and also sang “Summertime” from the musical “Porgy and Bess” and “If You Believe” from the Broadway show “The Wiz.”
A graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Wright says she chose BSU to expand on her musical training.
“I love it I came here with a dream, and they pushed it,” says Wright about the BSU music program.
Wright says she plans to attend graduate school after she finishes in December and pursue a career as a classical singer.
“I’m hoping the center attracts people and lets them know we’re here and brings them to our program,” she says.
Visual arts students also say they are excited with the access to up-to-date equipment, something they didn’t have when they shared space with other departments in the Martin Luther King building on campus.
“We’ve got all new computer software,” says senior Daniel Markulis of Lanham, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, who is studying cinematography.
With the skills he’s learned, Markulis envisions starting a small production company for short films, photography and graphic design, before moving on to work on feature films.
His BSU teacher, Tewodross Melchishua of District Heights, incorporates real-life deadlines into assignments to better prepare students for jobs in the real world.
Sometimes that can create stress, but Markulis says he welcomes it.
“It doesn’t feel like work, because it’s what we want to do,” he says.
Markulis has written a script to be filmed with fellow students and friends about a young wife who sees visions about something bad happening in the future.
He says the new Apple computers have made work on the film and other projects a lot faster and smoother.
“It empowers us,” says Melchishua, about what students can now do with the new labs and equipment.
“It’s a blessing now that we have the tools to create,” says Melchishua, who is associate professor and program coordinator for the Visual Communication and Digital Media Arts department.
Also in his program is BSU senior Johnita Thompson, a Michigan native who lives in Frederick and who is studying graphic design.
She says she has used the computers to create images of zombies for her senior project. The zombies trace their origins back to stories and traditions from West Africa.
Thompson says she plans to create an e-book with some of the images, one of which hangs in the art gallery in the Fine and Performing Arts Center.
Walking through the gallery Saturday was Artis Hampshire-Cowan of Mitchellville, a senior vice president and corporate secretary at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who says she also is excited about the new center.
“I think it’s important that we who are aware of it tell people in the county that it’s here and that they support it and come out to it,” she says.
“I think sometimes we under-appreciate what we have here in Prince George’s County,” says Hampshire-Cowan, who lived in Silver Spring before moving to Mitchellville in 1991.
She sees the new performing arts center as a place where different nonprofit and cultural organizations can sponsor “exciting and dynamic” performances.
She also sees the center as a place where people from different races, cultures and backgrounds can “gather and come together.”
“Art seems to dissolve differences and bring out our humanity,” she says.