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Saturday, December 4, 2021

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Julia Brown (right) with a scholarship recipient (Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic) Julia Brown (right) with a scholarship recipient (Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic)
 


Performing Arts: Nurturing the Soul

San Diego arts patron Julia Brown has pledged strong support for SDSU’s new performing arts district.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

“It will create a better performance experience for both the performers and the audience.”

For as long as she can remember, San Diego arts patron Julia Brown has loved musical theater. Now she is sharing her passion for such performances by pledging her continuing support for San Diego State University’s new performing arts district.

Brown’s pledge continues a series of gifts to the university that have included establishment of the Julia Brown Musical Theatre Endowed Scholarship and the Julia R. Brown New Musical Theatre Initiative Fund. It is a commitment to the “On to a New Stage” fundraising campaign, attracting private philanthropic support to enhance a $37 million California State University (CSU) investment in the project.

The CSU funding awarded in 2019 is earmarked for renovation of SDSU’s aging theater along with construction of a  more intimate second stage for the performing arts. Both will form the center of an expanded performing arts district that will include a new box office and sound design lab.

Brown, a University of California San Diego Foundation Board of Trustees chair emerita, has held a variety of executive and leadership positions throughout a biopharmaceuticals career spanning more than 30 years. For decades she has served and continues to serve in a variety of advisory board, trustee, and committee capacities for a wide range of community, corporate, cultural and educational institutions.

Love of musicals

Both well informed and actively involved in a diverse array of pursuits, Brown is equally at ease at a corporate conference table or in a theater seat. But it’s the latter, with an orchestra playing in the pit and performers singing on stage, where her spirit truly soars.

“The performing arts nurture my soul,” Brown said during a recent interview from her San Diego home. She traces her love of musical theater back to her childhood in Louisiana when her grandmother would take her to productions of the latest popular American musicals.

“It was wonderful,” she said.

Brown recalled seeing all the Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein Broadway classics such as “The King and I” and “Oklahoma!” Her favorite was the Irving Berlin gem “Annie Get Your Gun,” a fictionalized musical version of the life of a sharpshooter known as Annie Oakley who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

“I loved that musical,” Brown said. “I connected with Annie Oakley and I sang all the songs, especially ‘You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.’”

SDSU connection

Brown connected to SDSU’s musical theater program through former College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts Dean Joyce Gattas. She learned how the university’s first-in-the-nation Master of Fine Arts Degree in Musical Theatre has helped scores of students establish life-long careers as leaders in the art form.

Impressed by how the program combines performance training and academic study, Brown endowed scholarships to support student success. She has been inspired by each of the scholarship recipients.

“I have met all of them,” she said. “They are all so talented, dedicated, and well prepared not just to perform, but to teach at any level.”

SDSU MFA graduates have gone on to teach in musical theater programs in schools and universities worldwide. Others have become professional performers, directors, choreographers, music directors, producers, casting agents, and writers.

When Brown saw a presentation about the new arts district and how it will elevate all of the PSFA arts programs, she was excited by the plans. “It will create a better performance experience for both the performers and the audience,” she said.

With regard to her pledge, “I wanted to do my part,” Brown said. Now she is playing a leading role in turning the arts district vision into reality.