In the beginning
On June 16, 1975, Dr. Edward Bloustein, president of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, appointed John Bettenbender to serve as acting dean of the new School of Creative and Performing Arts. Bettenbender and an advisory committee of arts faculty members were charged with developing a top-notch arts conservatory.
On July 1, 1976, the Master of Fine Arts programs in theater, visual arts, and music were transferred to the School of Creative and Performing Arts, and the school was declared a separate degree-granting unit of the university.
By 1977, the undergraduate program in Visual Arts was inaugurated, and soon after, the school began to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance and a Bachelor of Music degree.
The institution was officially dedicated as the Mason Gross School of the Arts on January 18, 1979. The name was a fitting tribute to former Rutgers University president Mason Welch Gross (above): Prior to his death in 1977, Gross had envisioned establishing a center for the fine and performing arts.
The great leap forward
As part of the 1981 university reorganization, all departments offering fine arts at Douglass, Livingston, and Rutgers colleges were folded into the Mason Gross School of the Arts.
As school enrollment grew, so did the physical plant: At present, the Mason Gross School of the Arts encompasses 10 buildings on the Douglass Campus (including Nicholas Music Center, designed by Pietro Belluschi, the architect of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City) in addition to the Livingston Theater and visual-arts studios on the Livingston Campus, and the Civic Square building housing the Dean's Office, the Mason Gross Galleries and more visual-arts studios in the heart of New Brunswick.
On June 4, 1984, the Blanche and Irving Laurie Music Library was dedicated. The library contains approximately 15,000 recordings as well as 30,000 monographs and scores and serves as a reference and research resource for our students and faculty.
Marilyn Somville served as dean from 1990 until 2000. During her tenure, she oversaw the mid-'90s relocation of the Visual Arts Department to the Civic Square Building in downtown New Brunswick. In addition, she established Rutgers SummerFest, an ambitious and wide-ranging series that presented performances from the Mason Gross School of the Arts Departments of Music, Theater Arts, and Dance as well as sculpture exhibitions from the Department of Visual Arts.
The series ran from 1987 to 2001 and has since been reinvented as Mason Gross Presents, a year-round program featuring student artists as well as visiting artists from across the globe.
Going global, staying local
The present dean, George B. Stauffer, began serving at Mason Gross in 2000. Under Stauffer's direction, the school has extended its reach, educating students around the world via a web-based program called Mason Gross Online, engaging the surrounding community through the Extension Division's programs for children, seniors, and families, and giving Theater Arts students the opportunity to participate in a year-long conservatory program at Shakespeare's Globe in London. In 2011, the Mason Gross School and the School of Arts and Sciences launched the Rutgers Center For Digital Filmmaking.
In addition, the school has established Rutgers in New York, an annual series in which students perform or exhibit in distinguished venues such as Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, The Joyce Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.