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The Carson Family Charitable Trust Gives Historic $25 Million Gift for Visual Arts Center, Scholarships

  • Rendering of the Drawing/Painting/2D Studio.
    Courtesy of DSK Architects.
When Judith Mara Carson, a well-known champion of New York City arts and culture, graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 2003 with a degree in Art History, she saw in her mind’s eye a luminous creative space at the College that would reflect the education she had received.

That dream began to take shape during her years as an MMC trustee, campaign chair, and honorary degree recipient. Today, Carson’s dream of a premier visual arts center at MMC—in the heart of the world’s creative capital—is becoming reality, thanks to a $25 million gift from The Carson Family Charitable Trust.

The gift is the largest in the College’s 85-year history and will be used to establish the Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts and to fund scholarships for MMC students.

“This historic gift propels Marymount Manhattan into a singular, enviable space: the intersection of the liberal arts and the creative arts, where innovative work across disciplines is made and 21st-century careers are launched,” said Kerry Walk, MMC’s president. “We are deeply grateful to Judy and Russ Carson and The Carson Family Charitable Trust for their generous investment in the visual arts at Marymount Manhattan, which already enjoys a national reputation in arts education and preparing students for the burgeoning creative workforce.”

The Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts will occupy 12,000 square feet on the eighth floor and a portion of the seventh floor of the College’s main building, designed in the late 1920s by American architect John Russell Pope, whose credits include the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art. In 2016, the Neo-Georgian building at 221 East 71st Street was named Carson Hall to honor Judy Carson and her husband, Russell L. Carson, for their longstanding commitment to MMC. The new visual arts center will serve as a creative hub for teaching and learning, and for engaging and invigorating the wider community.

“The contribution of the arts to daily life, community well-being, and the national economy is indisputable yet under-appreciated,” said Judy Carson ’03, ’H13. “The visual arts in particular spark dialogue, bring people together, and drive economic development. This is why Russ and I, along with our children, Cecily and Edward, are passionate about establishing a contemporary visual arts center at Marymount Manhattan and providing access to students from diverse backgrounds who will be connected to abundant professional opportunities in the visual arts.”

The Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts promises to be both stunningly beautiful and highly versatile. On the top floor, visitors will step into a soaring multipurpose space beneath a glass roof, which will allow natural light to stream in. Light-filled studio spaces will inspire the creation of 2D and 3D works; a combination digital lab and immersive gallery with a wrap-around display will accommodate large-scale audio/visual projects; and specially equipped computers and state-of-the-art laser cutters will support animation and design. A dedicated art history classroom and an expansive seminar room, plus flexible spaces for teaching, learning, exhibitions, and events, will promote the melding of creative and critical practice—a hallmark of an MMC education.

Rendering of the Communal Multipurpose/Photo Shooting Space. Courtesy of DSK Architects. Rendering of the Communal Multipurpose/Photo Shooting Space. Courtesy of DSK Architects.Designed by award-winning architects DSK | Dewing Schmid Kearns, the Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts is based on the principles of flexibility, intersection, and community. Flexible studio and teaching spaces with glass walls will facilitate and highlight the creative work of MMC students. The center will create a transdisciplinary ecosystem that invites students to flex their creativity across a range of techniques, media, theories, and systems of knowledge. Students will take advantage of plentiful opportunities to think and learn beyond the traditional bounds of defined disciplines. Interconnected studios, classrooms, and multipurpose communal areas, including abundant gallery space, will become rich sites for community-building, where students, faculty, alumni, and guests can gather and exchange ideas.

“The Judith Mara Carson for Visual Arts is a union of curricular and architectural vision,” said Tom Kearns, President of DSK Architects. “MMC’s approach to education is inspiring, allowing students to develop their creativity and social consciousness. Their educational journey provided a foundation for our design. The center will be a beacon—an invitation to join a dynamic community of thinkers, makers, and risk-takers. Respecting the history of the John Russell Pope building and boldly reinventing it, the Judith Mara Carson for Visual Arts will reinforce MMC’s stature as a primary creative hub in the City.” 

The Carson gift allots $15 million to the visual arts center and $10 million for scholarships for MMC students, 80% of whom major or minor in a creative field. Visual arts programming will blend artistic practice and research with a number of other fields, including business, communications, dance, theatre, and the sciences and social sciences. In addition to degree programs, classes and workshops for adult and pre-college students will be offered.

Through the center, MMC students will build the knowledge base and the skillset they need to thrive in New York City’s creative economy. According to a recent report by the city’s comptroller, the creative sector was responsible for $110 billion in total economic activity in a single year. One in every eight dollars in New York City’s economy is generated directly or indirectly by the creative sector, which includes artists, designers, dancers, media professionals, curators, and gallerists. As New York City emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, arts and culture will become more important than ever before, repairing the social fabric and leading community revitalization.

Rebecca Seawright, New York State Assembly Member for the 76th District, which encompasses MMC, sees the new center at MMC as a community hub and an economic engine. “The Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts will not only attract students, their families, and members of the general public to the Upper East Side for classes as well as arts and culture events,” she said. “It will also bolster MMC’s talent pipeline to New York’s multibillion-dollar creative economy.”

Construction of the Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts is scheduled to begin later this spring, with expected completion in Summer 2022.