As music filled the courtyard between the entrance to Texas Lutheran University’s Jackson Auditorium and the School of Music on Friday afternoon, dramatic media and music major Jonathan Tucker clipped the golden ribbon, tied between two tall tables displaying yellow daffodils, to officially open the Caroline Weston Center for the Performing Arts.
“This building has been years and years in the making. I can’t begin to feel the excitement that all of these people who have been working so hard on this project are feeling now. It is the fruit of the persistent labor of so many of our faculty and staff,” he said.
“On behalf of the current and the future artists that study here at TLU, I would like to thank each and every person who aided in making this remarkable new building a reality. Thank you truly for believing in us and in our art.”
The complex, built around Jackson Auditorium, was a vision brought to life by many, TLU President Stuart Dorsey said.
“This has been a long-standing dream — a permanent home and venue for our dramatic media faculty and students and a contemporary school of music with the size, state of the art acoustics and technology to match the talents of our band, orchestra and choir programs,” he said. “For decades the Weston Center has been more like the impossible dream.”
Dorsey said initial cost estimates to bring something like the Caroline Weston Center to the campus about $25 million, funds the university lacked.
“The project took a first giant step toward reality thanks to the generosity of the family of Caroline Weston and their vision of an enduring memorial to her lifelong passion for music and the arts,” he said. “The foundational gift of $5 million made possible by Mr. Granger Weston and his friendship with (foundation) President Jon Moline brought that plan to life. This is a day of celebration for Mr. Weston and his family and we are honored that so many are here today.”
Graham Weston, son of Caroline Weston — for whom the center is named, said the family has looked forward to seeing the facility become a reality.
“This gift that my father gave in honor of my mother is what kicked off today,” he said. “It is absolutely our family’s honor to be part of today’s victory, bringing one of the best facilities in the whole United States to TLU here in Seguin Texas.”
Growing up, Graham admitted he wasn’t a fan of the arts, however, his mother was.
“I did not appreciate the performing arts growing up ... today, I know that was wrong,” he said. “I know that I am wrong now because you can see that the performing arts are a critical part of the fabric of our culture, and it really brings beauty into all of our lives. Isn’t it awesome the new generation of young people interested in performing arts?”
The new wings affixed to each side of the auditorium cost about $15 million.
“That gift got us started but we still had $10 million to go. One of the most heartening aspects of the campaign for the arts has been the astonishing breath of support from our alumni and friends,” Dorsey said. “Thus far, we have received another $9.4 million in gifts and pledges for a total of $14.4 million, and that is more than twice that of any TLU campaign. This project seems to have touched a nerve, calling too many for whom TLU or the arts has made a difference in their lives or for a beloved family member or friend. Thank you to everyone who donated gifts large and small, this has truly been a team effort.”
On behalf of the TLU Board of Regents, chairman Lewis Westerman thanked the donors who made the Caroline Weston Center possible and said he looks forward to the educational opportunities the facility will offer.
“Today with that sigh of relief, the board joins you in the tremendous excitement that is in the air, and at the same time we are humbled by the tremendous generosity of the Weston family, and all of the other folks listed in the bulletin today,” he said. “I believe the Weston Center will make a significant impact on education and the arts at many levels in South Texas and Central Texas for years to come.”
The Weston Center brings the university’s dramatic media and music departments together under one roof.
The complex features a studio, black box theater for the university’s Dramatic Media Department on the south side of the auditorium and the School of Music on the north side.
Dramatic Media chairman David Legore said he has waited a long time to have a place his department could call home.
“What a day. An amazing day. I have been looking forward to this day for nearly 24 years. It was around 2 months into that first year of being on faculty that I drafted the memo that called for the development of Jackson Auditorium into a broader performing arts complex, including a flexible studio theater and here we are,” he said. “This is literally a dream come true for me and I am humbled to be a part of this moment, and I am also very aware that this is the culmination of one thing that is the beginning of so many new things that impact our students over the coming years.”
Dramatic Media was able to move in and begin using its new facility in October, however, the music department wasn’t able to start using its new facilities until January.
Legore officially welcomed his peers to the new center.
“To our colleagues in music, welcome to the neighborhood. Bravo,” he said. “We have been separated geographically for about 15 years and it is amazing to start this reuniting process, we look forward to daily joyful noises that come from music and sharing a complex together again.”
A feature, Tucker said he is personally thankful for, among other things.
“One of the best new features of this new building for me is that I won’t have to keep running back and forth across campus from theater rehearsal to choir rehearsals every single day,” he said. “The Caroline Weston Center certainly offers that and so much more. From numerous practice rooms and personalized practice rooms to our amazing new black box theater, it is really the best. I love it.”
Beth Bronk, chair of the music department, said she was “grateful” for the new facility and the many doors it has opened for her students.
“You may not understand the impact that this building has had on our students, but when we moved from our one crowded hallway to these amazing teaching and rehearsal spaces, it was as though the ceiling lifted and light came in,” she said.
Inside the school of music are various rehearsal studios, band and orchestra halls, however, Bronk was surprised to find an additional place just outside the entrance for students to perform.
“What an unexpected joy,” she said of the Zunker Courtyard. “What an unexpected delight it is to play out here. I think the students were just amazed at the way it sounded and how nice it was. I don’t think it will be quite over here anymore. It was a discovery by accident, but what a wonderful gift.”
Bronk said the Caroline Weston Center will afford students more opportunities to learn and grow.
The state of the art facility is more than just a new learning space located on the campus, Dorsey said.
“The impossible dream stands before us. It is concrete and steel and glass,” he said. “As president of Texas Lutheran, I can attest to a greater significance of this Weston Center. Beyond providing great spaces for teaching learning and performance, these buildings symbolize the future of the university. ”
Additionally, Dorsey said the project is part of a larger plan for the college.
“This fulfills one of the major promises of the campus master plan and is a giant leap forward in the transformation of the campus and the vision by the entire TLU board of regents,” he said. “This building stands as a symbol of what is possible when we have big audacious dreams. The university has more bold and daring ideas for a new academic building, student center and library. That is an ambitious vision and once again, we have no money, but don’t bet against us. The story of the Weston Center tells us that we are right on track.”