Spotlight shines on Dal’s new school of performing arts

Future students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts thanked Fred and Elizabeth Fountain for their donation with musical and dramatic performances at a special ceremony in September. (Photo: Piper Whelan)

The curtain is rising on a new act in the history of performing arts at Dalhousie University, thanks to one family’s $10 million donation.

Fred and Elizabeth Fountain and their daughter, Katharine, have given this milestone gift to Dalhousie’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to create the Fountain School of Performing Arts.

The name of the school, along with the appointment of interim director Jure Gantar, was announced last month at a celebration at the Dalhousie Arts Centre, the home of the new school.

The school will integrate the existing departments of music and theatre to become the largest Canadian performing arts school east of Montreal, with an expected student enrolment for September 2014 of about 200. Many other Dalhousie students will take electives at the school.

The school will provide new educational opportunities to theatre and music students. The donation will be set up as an endowment to enhance programming and support students primarily through entrance scholarships, rather than to offset fixed costs such as faculty salaries.

“In the past we’ve lost excellent students because we haven’t been able to offer them enough money as an entrance scholarship, so that’s going to make a big difference,” said Jennifer Bain, chair of the Department of Music.

Other opportunities featured in the new program will include graduate funding, artists-in-residence, summer workshops, high school student recruitment and internships.

“It would bring more connectivity between the years and the different disciplines of the programs,” said Marina Gwynne, a fourth-year University of King’s College student studying acting at Dalhousie.

“We don’t really interact with the music students or the voice students very often, so I think that it will help to encourage that.”

Nick Perron, a third-year Dalhousie acting student, said the King’s Theatrical Society productions at neighbouring University of King’s College “get more hype and buzz than the DalTheatre shows just because it’s more of a culture there.”

“But if we had a more prestigious program and people are excited about the shows, I think it would change the culture of Dal a little bit.”

Theatre and music enthusiasts fill the lobby of the Dalhousie Arts Centre, home of the Fountain School of Performing Arts. (Photo: Piper Whelan)

Dean of Arts and Social Sciences Robert Summerby-Murray called this donation a “tremendously positive statement” about the role of performing arts in Canadian society and at the post-secondary level.

He said while critics of the arts often say an acting degree is unemployable, “there are many jobs for people who understand the intersections of culture and peoples’ relationships, which is what you’re exploring when you’re acting.”

Summerby-Murray said in five years, he hopes their efforts “will really have placed this school on the map in terms of the choices for Canadian and international students.”

“We need (the arts) because this just totally adds to the beauty of life, and it is something that we are so happy to be able to support,” Elizabeth Fountain explained.

The Fountains support many organizations in Halifax, including Neptune Theatre, Symphony Nova Scotia and the Stay Connected Mental Health Project.

The Fountain School of Performing Arts will officially combine the two departments and open in July 2014.