Moss Arts Center: An extraordinary canvas for art and education

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“I was lucky enough to find [the arts] at a young age, and they opened up so many learning avenues and professional opportunities for me. That is why I am so excited about the impact this wonderful facility will make on thousands of people, young and old, across this entire region of our state.”

Moss Arts Center: An extraordinary canvas for art and education

That first painting, done while Moss was grammar- school age, was followed
by many others. And while Moss may not have cared what others thought of her artwork, her talent was recognized by a teacher whose encouragement helped convince Moss’ mother to send her daughter to Washington Irving High School, in Manhattan, which had a strong arts program.

Though Moss continued to get poor grades at that school, her art portfolio drew attention from the school principal, Mary Meade, who recommended it be entered for scholarship competitions. Moss wound up attending New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a key step in her artistic career.

In October, Virginia Tech announced it had named its $100 million arts center for Moss in tribute to her commitment of $10 million toward construction. The university also announced it had exceeded its $28 million private fundraising goal for the project.

“The arts can change people’s hearts, change their minds, and change their lives,” Moss said shortly before the announcement. “I was lucky enough to find them at a young age, and they opened up so many learning avenues and professional opportunities for me. That is why I am so excited about the impact this wonderful facility will make on thousands of people, young and old, across this entire region of our state.”

Within the Moss Arts Center is the Street and Davis Performance Hall, which contains the 1,260-seat Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. The arts center facility also includes what was once Shultz Hall. Along with the theatre, the facility features visual arts galleries; studios; Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; and the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, which programs and operates the Moss Arts Center.

The Moss Arts Center is the cornerstone project of a broad e ort at Virginia Tech to expand creative practice and to support interdisciplinary learning, engagement, and discovery through the arts.

Moss said the scope of the project and her family ties to Virginia Tech led her to want to get involved. Her generous support of the arts at Virginia Tech is also
in keeping with her history of philanthropy aimed at promoting the arts in education. A foundation that bears her name has been active in that area for many years, and Moss regularly travels to speak with students and teachers.

“All of us have to try to make a di erence, to educate kids, and to help them have some self-esteem,” Moss said. “I learned my self-worth through the arts.”


Hours before the first performance in Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center took place, hundreds gathered to celebrate the completion of the spectacular new facility.

Speaking to a crowd containing many donors and administrators who played important roles in the project’s success, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said the investment in the arts made by the university and its supporters “is really a major factor propelling Virginia Tech to greater national stature.”

He added that “a vigorous and visible presence for the arts, we believe, will mark our campus as an even more comprehensive and well-rounded university, while enabling us to compete for funding at the highest levels and enhance our ability to attract the best students and faculty.”

Several key donors to the project said seeing the facility come to fruition was a historic day for the university, and they explained why they considered the center to be such a compelling initiative to support.

Standing in the 1,260-seat Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, named in honor of his wife and mother, Gene Fife (business administration ’62) said the arts center “just adds more depth and richness to the experience of being here in Blacksburg.”

Sherwood “Sherry” Payne Quillen (health and physical education ’71) said looking at the first art exhibit in the gallery within the center that bears her name was “exhilarating—almost surreal,” and that the scale of the overall center was “larger than life.”

Nicholas Street (general business ’53), who along with his wife, Fay ( nance ’77), helped name the Street and Davis Performance Hall, predicted the facility would “take Virginia Tech to a new level; it’s another piece to the puzzle.”

William C. “Jack” Davis, who along with his wife, Sandra, are also namesakes of the performance hall, said watching the progress of construction had seemed slow at times, since he lives in Blacksburg and would frequently pass the construction site on his way to work on campus, but “it’s absolutely thrilling to see it come together now, and to also see all the people who were involved [gather] in one room.”

Nancie Roop Kennedy named an elevator in the center for her late husband, Duncan C. Kennedy III (electrical engineering ’61), and made a point of riding it shortly after the ribbon was cut in celebration of the building’s opening.

“I named an elevator guring if I could ride it high enough, I could meet my husband up in the clouds,” she said. “I’m sure he’s up there, looking down on all this, smiling.”

by Albert Raboteau