Sorenson gives $3M to Westminster to expand arts education
Gift to fund endowed chair in arts education, student fellowships, outreach program
Published: February 14, 2012 07:59AM
Updated: February 14, 2012 07:47AM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Beverley Sorenson is joined by Westminster president Michael Bassis, left, during a meeting Monday at Westminster College where Sorenson pledged $3 million to the institution to expand art and art education program.

On Monday, Westminster College announced a $3 million gift from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation for a new position of endowed chair in arts education.

In addition to the chair position, which will preside over the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Program for Creative Arts Education at Westminster College, the gift also expands the liberal arts college’s offerings for arts education in three ways.

The Sorensons’ wealth has funded numerous arts and education programs around the state, and the Monday announcement comes on the heels of a $1 million pledge to Southern Utah University. That money is pledged toward the $12.5 million Southern Utah Museum of Art at the Cedar City campus.

“Beverley’s commitment to arts education and her tireless efforts on behalf of schoolchildren everywhere will be evidenced in the daily activities of this magnificent facility,” SUU President Michael Benson said.

Westminster will use Sorenson Foundation funds to fund a new creative arts education minor at the undergraduate level, plus a new Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. It will also develop a Montessori teacher-training certificate program, the first of its kind in the Intermountain West, said Robert A. Shaw, dean of Westminster’s school of education. Finally, it will launch an outreach program for teachers and artists, who will then share their expertise in Utah schools.

The gift was offered by Beverley Taylor Sorenson, wife of late biotechnology pioneer and entrepreneur James LeVoy Sorenson, who has made arts education a centerpiece of her philanthropy since 1994.

“In 7th grade,I learned the foxtrot and the waltz,” Sorenson said during the announcement in the office of Westminster College president Michael S. Bassis. “I was the one who played piano, and I never did get to dance. But being a shy girl, it made me a little more confident. It really meant a lot.”

She said that, coming home after a hard day’s work, her husband often went downstairs if someone was playing piano upstairs. However, he left a generous tip on the piano afterward as a token of his appreciation for the music.

Sorenson has given more than $20 million of her money to the cause of arts education in Utah elementary schools, apart from millions in funding the family’s Sorenson Legacy Foundation has given to programs at the university and college level that help train arts teachers. In 2008, Sorenson’s example led the Utah Legislature to direct $15 million toward her own Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which integrates arts education into schools’ core curriculum. The program, implemented in 57 Utah elementary schools, is finishing up its fourth year of evaluation as a pilot program.

The gift is, in part, meant to fortify and complement the Arts Learning Program. “It’s an absolutely marvelous accomplishment that we’re honored to be part of and help move forward,” Bassis said. “It’s about art used in enormously powerful ways. That’s a story about arts that’s not told as often as other stories involving the arts.”

For its art museum, SUU has raised $9 million and officials are near the end of the design phase for the 28,000-square-foot building. Admission will be free, and officials envision it serving as a destination for thousands of school children.

“This accredited facility will allow us to borrow art from other museums around the world, host major traveling exhibits, as well as showcase art from our permanent collections,” said Reece Summers, director of SUU’s Braithwaite Gallery.

The museum will house five exhibition galleries and a large educational space for year-round exhibits and educational programming.

bfulton@sltrib.com Twitter:@Artsalt Facebook.com/nowsaltlake

Tribune reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this story.