Category: Giving

Culverhouses, Abernathys name performance theatres in Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts

Culverhouse gift builds upon couple’s two support funds established since 2019

A group of women pose for a photo on a theater stage
Eliza P. Culverhouse, seen here with members of the Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre in 2019, has continued her support of UA Dance programs with a gift to name the dance theatre in the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts the Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre.


Another step forward has been made in the development of the new performing arts center on the campus of The University of Alabama with the formal naming of the facility as well as its two most prominent performance spaces.

In addition to officially naming the facility the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts in honor of the Mark Smith family of Huntsville, the UA System Board of Trustees Friday approved the naming of both the Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre and the Robert and Laura Abernathy Theatre in the Smith Center. UA held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Smith Center on the Bryce Campus in October 2023.

For Eliza and Hugh Culverhouse, supporting University of Alabama Dance programs is both a nod to their pasts and a promise for the future.

Eliza was one of five children, and her parents encouraged participation in the performing arts. Her father, Irwin Perlmutter, was a neurosurgeon who played piano and studied ballet. Later, Eliza’s interest in dance and creative arts would influence her work as an aerobics teacher.

The couple have established a pair of support funds for UA Dance since 2019, and Eliza says her time spent with UA Dance students and faculty during that span has reinforced the importance of preserving and growing performing arts programs at UA and nationwide.

“One thing that’s always appealed to me is including dance, music and theatre as part of one’s entire education,” she said. “The creativity and passion students have for their craft, the history and their appreciation for those who came before them is incredibly inspiring.”

Now, the Culverhouses have reached a new milestone in their support of UA Dance through their $3 million gift to UA to name the dance theatre in the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts in Eliza’s name. The 450-seat dance theatre is one of four state-of-the-art performance and rehearsal venues in the Smith Center that feature a variety of upgrades, including larger stage openings and off-stage spaces, adjustable acoustics and engineered floors, among others.

A man and woman pose for a photo outdoors in front of a white building
Robert and Laura Abernathy have served on the cabinet of UA’s Campaign for the Performing Arts since its launch in 2017 and have strengthened their support of the arts through a gift to name the drama performance theatre in the Smith Center the Robert and Laura Abernathy Theatre.

“Having my time to sit and be with the students in the dance program, I learn and glean so much from them that I hope I give back to them the hope, inspiration and burning desire to continue doing the beautiful things they’re doing,” Eliza said.

The Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre is a landmark moment in the couple’s support of UA Dance programs. In 2019, the Culverhouses made a $500,000 gift that established the Eliza P. Culverhouse Fund for Excellence in Dance, which allows for the recruiting and funding of guest artists and financial support for priority needs such as costumes, equipment and other student support. In 2021, Eliza made a $250,000 contribution to create the Eliza P. Culverhouse Graduate Support Fund in Dance, which supports graduate students in the dance Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in furthering their craft.

Hugh said he is excited to continue their support of UA Dance, as it’s both a passion and furthers the University’s mission to support humanities.

“For a number of years, we’ve supported athletics, the business college, ROTC … the entire University,” he said. “The University is what we believe in, and dance and the fine arts are a critical part of it.

“Hopefully, the actions of Eliza and myself will spur others to make gifts to the Smith Center and realize the importance for students to be exposed to fine arts.”

Abernathys name performance theatre

The theatre for drama performances in the Smith Family Center will be named for Robert and Laura Abernathy following a $3 million gift from the couple.

The 350-seat proscenium-style theatre’s design will provide a more intimate artist-to-audience connection and an elevated experience for each patron.

Laura said the unique pairing of historical elements of the Bryce property and new construction initially inspired their support for the campaign.

“And the theatre was something that, once we saw it was available for naming, we knew we’d enjoy being a part of,” Robert added.

A family poses for a photo while holding shovels at a dig site
In October 2023, the University held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts, located on the Bryce campus. The Smith family, from left: Sarah, Cameron, Clay, Linda and Kate.

The Abernathys have served on the cabinet for UA’s Campaign for the Performing Arts since its launch in 2017 and have been integral in helping raise more than $40 million to support the construction of the Smith Center.

“This has been the most successful capital campaign for a non-athletics building in the university’s history,” Robert said. “The success of the campaign speaks to the broad range of donors that this project appealed to and the leadership of (campaign co-chairs) Bill and Mary Battle. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this campaign.”

The couple has served on the academic committee of the College of Arts and Science’s Leadership Board and fund the Laura C. and Robert E. Abernathy Endowed Scholarship in the college.

Robert also serves as a cabinet member of The Rising Tide 2.0 Capital Campaign.

The forthcoming naming of the Smith Center was announced in 2022 following a $20 million gift made in memory of Mark Smith, co-founder of the global telecommunications company ADTRAN, and lifelong supporter of the arts. Mark’s son, Clay, a graduate of the Culverhouse College of Business at UA, along with his wife, Cameron, a graduate of the College of Communication and Information Sciences, and his mother, Linda, made the gift.

“The fact that the Smith family is naming the performing arts portion of the building is really special,” Robert said. “At the groundbreaking, they had three generations of Smith family members there, which speaks to the generations of University of Alabama students who will benefit from the performing arts center.”

UA Alums Make $25M Gift for Matching Challenge

  • February 26th, 2024
  • in Giving
A man and woman pose for a photo indoors
UA alums and Rising Tide Capital Campaign Co-Chairs Mike and Kathy Mouron.


Supporters of The University of Alabama now have a unique opportunity to double their charitable investments in UA endowments following an unprecedented $25 million matching gift commitment from UA alumni Mike and Kathy Mouron.

Qualifying gifts to endowments through the Mike and Kathy Mouron Rising Tide Matching Gift Challenge will be matched dollar for dollar through a planned gift from the Mourons’ estate.

“This generous gift from Mike and Kathy Mouron is the latest testament to their passion and commitment to supporting excellence at their alma mater,” UA President Stuart R. Bell said. “This is an incredible opportunity for our alumni and supporters to strengthen existing endowments, create new ones and enhance their legacies at the Capstone.”

The Mourons, co-chairs of The Rising Tide Capital Campaign, said their decision to fund a matching gift challenge aligned with the priorities for the capital campaign and they’re honored to fulfill that need for the University.

“We believe there is wisdom in the expression, ‘to whom much is given much is expected’ – and we have certainly been given a great deal,” Mike Mouron said. “That said, one receives incredible emotional satisfaction in charitable gifting to worthwhile causes of some capital earned during a lifetime of hard work.

“We are graduates and advocates of The University of Alabama, and we can enthusiastically support many of the vast number of programs and initiatives offered on campus. Structuring our gift to the University as an integral component of our estate planning was an easy decision for us and one we would recommend others consider.”

Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UA, and Kathy is an alumna in special education. They reside in Mountain Brook and have made significant philanthropic investments to the Capstone, including the lead gift that funded the construction of the Stran-Hardin Arena for the UA Adapted Athletics program. Mike and Kathy were recognized as the William M. and Virginia B. Spencer Outstanding Philanthropists for 2022 by the Alabama Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals based in Birmingham.

Like the Mourons’ steadfast support of UA, the matching gift challenge will have a far-reaching impact across campus; donors can support eight types of endowments in seven colleges and 15 different programs and units.

The Rising Tide Capital Campaign

The Rising Tide Capital Campaign, launched publicly in September 2021, has raised nearly $1.49 billion of its $1.5 billion goal with more than two years left and is the most successful capital campaign for any institution in higher education in the State of Alabama. To date, almost 960 endowed scholarships, 60 endowed faculty support funds and more than 500,000 square feet of campus facilities have been supported by nearly 162,000 donors.

The announcement of the matching gift challenge is the latest milestone in this historic campaign. On Jan. 19, the University celebrated the ceremonial opening of the Catherine and Pettus Randall Welcome Center, a reimagining and renovation of the Bryce Main property that serves as the new home for UA’s undergraduate admissions and as the starting point for campus tours. In October 2023, UA broke ground on the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts, a cutting-edge facility that’s part of nearly 118,000 square feet of renovation and additions at Bryce Main.

Wilson Providing ‘Elevated Experience’ for Huxford Symphony

  • December 4th, 2023
  • in Giving

World-renowned flutist, conductor returns to hometown for endowed faculty position

Ransom Wilson conducts rehearsal of the Huxford Symphony.

Story by David Miller
Photos by Zach Riggins

Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Grieg Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Twentieth century brass. These compositions can range across two centuries and contain depths of details that are challenging to learn and play.

Teaching all three can be especially difficult but exciting, says Anthony DiMauro, a doctoral student in orchestral conducting at The University of Alabama. DiMauro conducts the UA Campus Orchestra, Bama Brass and the campus ensemble and assists in conducting the Huxford Symphony, UA’s top orchestral ensemble.

Most significant in the challenges DiMauro faces each week is preparing a wide variety of repertoire for the three ensembles.

“One thing like an accent in Schubert might be totally different in Tomasi Fanfares Liturgiques, a piece in the brass ensemble,” DiMauro explains. “Those different accents aren’t just something you need to explain to the players, but also show with your hands. So, your repertoire with your gesture must be wide and varied.”

A white man teaches piano to a white college student
A mentor and advocate: Wilson instructs Anthony DiMauro, a first-year doctoral student in orchestral conducting, during a piano rehearsal.

Accents and gestures are just a few of the many nuances and precision points DiMauro must recognize and embrace as a conductor. And to be a great conductor, DiMauro must be efficient in everything he does, from selecting repertoire to his rehearsal techniques.

For DiMauro, a guide for how to be “great” is just a short walk down the hall. Ransom Wilson, the Camilla Huxford Endowed Chair in Orchestral Studies, conducts the Huxford Symphony at UA and is both a teacher and mentor to DiMauro.

Wilson began his tenure at UA in August after more than 30 years at Yale University, where he was professor of flute. An accomplished flutist, Wilson has performed with top-flight ensembles across the globe, including the London Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Wilson is also an accomplished conductor and recording artist, having released 35 commercial recordings and earned three Grammy nominations.

“It’s pretty exciting to learn from someone so well known as a well-rounded player and an internationally acclaimed soloist, and with an incredibly packed conducting resume,” DiMauro said. “Musically, I think it speaks for itself on what I can gain from working with him.”

Welcome back

Wilson, a Tuscaloosa native and member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, says he was called home by a feeling to “give back” to the community that provided his formative music education. He says the progressive developments of both the University and the city further convinced him to return and “be part of the growth cycle.”

Wilson aims to achieve at UA the sense of community and fulfillment that he’s experienced in other conducting appointments, such as the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Southern California, where some of his high school players would later become his colleagues at Yale and in New York.

“I felt like I was a part of something important there,” Wilson says of Idyllwild. “I had students 20 years later who said, ‘you took me aside and talked about my dedication and focus, and it changed my life.’ For a teacher, there’s no better thing to hear.”

A white man and white woman pose for a photo next to a piano
A ‘wonderful’ addition: Camilla Huxford’s long-running support of the School of Music and the Huxford Symphony increased significantly with the creation of the Camilla Huxford Endowed Chair in Orchestral Studies, held by Ransom Wilson.

Wilson conducting the Huxford Symphony Orchestra is providing needed continuity in the conductor’s chair, which oversees between 55 and 60 players and works with the instructor for each instrument to improve player performance. In this role, Wilson deploys a deeply thoughtful approach to teaching and managing.

“Orchestras are famously non-democratic,” Wilson says. “You have a choice as a conductor to be the leader you want to be, while maintaining some control over sound and quality of ensembles. It’s a delicate balance – it can be easy to be a cruel dictator, and some conductors feel that’s the best way to be – players are united against you, but they’re united. I hate that idea.

“So, I’m constantly questioning, ‘is this a good or selfish decision?’ But what’s nice about getting to my age is you have nothing to prove, so you can do things the way they should be done and take your ego out of it.”

His methods for growing the Huxford Symphony have produced favorable early returns, evidenced by their first concert under his direction in September. Wilson said he “took a gamble” in programming Mozart and early Beethoven for the concert because mistakes by players are easily “heard.”

“I don’t think they had played anything like that in years,” he said. “It immediately made them sit up and take notice of their rhythm and their intonation and ensemble skills.”

The concert would be a success, with the players “stepping up to the plate” and delivering a great performance, just as Camilla Huxford, whose gifts have funded both the symphony and Wilson’s faculty position, envisioned when she began giving to the School of Music.

“I wanted to do something significant to provide the students in the (Huxford) Symphony an elevated experience,” Huxford said. “And by bringing in a world-renowned musician and teacher in Ransom Wilson, we’re already seeing his acumen, passion, and mentorship influence both students and faculty.

“It’s wonderful to see.”

A blueprint for success

A white male conducts an orchestra
Nothing to prove: Wilson says he teaches and conducts without ‘ego’ to build rapport with players and faculty and achieve results.

DiMauro says that while he can sometimes be hyper focused on details, Wilson is teaching him the importance of macro management and how to make difficult decisions in real-time. DiMauro also hopes to emulate Wilson’s warm and honest personality traits, which, so far, have made for an efficient rehearsal process that the players have responded to.

“At the professional level, time is money,” DiMauro said. “People who end up getting the jobs that I’m in the market for, they have great conducting technique in addition to being efficient rehearsers. Ransom, of course, is that.”

With the weight of conducting and continuing to sharpen his soft skills, it’s imperative that DiMauro improve each week. He’s done just that, which is rare, given the varying degrees of dedication and distractions young people face, Wilson said.  DiMauro’s progression allows him and Wilson to explore more of the nuances of teaching and conducting, such as being able to “read the room” and know when it’s time to leave a topic or continue emphasizing it to the players.

“As one of Ransom’s first students in a new program, I didn’t necessarily know for sure how this experience would go,” DiMauro said. “I knew that he was a great conductor and musician, but I’d never worked with him. But as time goes on, I have a really good feeling about Ransom as my mentor and my advocate. He’s there as a guide. His door is always open.”

A Space of Their Own

  • November 16th, 2023
  • in Giving

Fashion, design students and faculty settling into Drummond Lyon Hall

A male teacher demonstrates an alteration technique to a pair of female students
Professor Brian Taylor helps students in his advanced apparel design course select fabrics.


Story By David Miller
Photos by Zach Riggins

The cascading mid-afternoon sun pours through windows of a second-floor building, where a small group of women are cutting and sewing fabrics. A tinge of sunlight fades as the women gradually increase the focus and intensity of their tasks.

Then, one of the women leaves the classroom to retrieve a garment and alteration tools from a library next door. Another woman returns from the end of the hall after fitting a model for a custom-made garment.

The women move seamlessly from one space to the next, all working toward the same goal: completing their capstone projects for Professor Brian Taylor’s advanced apparel design course at The University of Alabama. His seniors must design and produce a collection based on their respective target philosophies and will spend most of the Fall 2023 semester readying for a fashion show in November, where they’ll debut their designs.

A white woman adjusts a garment on a manequin and smiles for a photo
Abbie Saul, a senior apparel design and retail fashion major from Cumming, Georgia, adjusts a part of her garment design in a gallery in Drummond Lyon Hall.

“We each are required to have three to five looks,” said Abbie Saul, a senior apparel design and retail fashion major from Cumming, Georgia. “We began this summer with ideation, concepts, and gathering all our fabrics and sketches of what we wanted to do.

“So, it’s been a busy time for us.”

Saul is one of eight seniors in the course. After graduation, she and her classmates will follow the career paths of recent alumni at designer brands like Brandon Maxwell and Oscar De La Renta, and at retailers such as American Eagle and Macy’s. However, how they matriculate to the workforce will differ greatly.

The recent opening of Drummond Lyon Hall, a 25,000-square-foot facility for apparel design and fashion retail programs, will provide a distinctive learning experience in a state-of-the-art environment. The facility features cutting-edge technology, enhanced and centralized resources and dedicated spaces for production and displays that were previously unavailable.

“It’s pretty groundbreaking for a program like this, especially in this country, where there aren’t many apparel and textile studies programs that have their own building,” Taylor said.

“There’s so much excitement right now.”

Drummond Lyon Hall includes:

A group of people cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of a building on a college campus
UA alumna Terri Drummond Lyon, third from left.
  • The Fashion Archive historical garment and textiles collection
  • Conservation laboratory
  • Exhibition galleries
  • Two cutting-edge studio classrooms
  • Flex space for receptions or lectures
  • Offices for fashion retailing and apparel design faculty

The facility is named in recognition of a commitment from Terri Drummond Lyon, a 1986 graduate of UA.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to provide our students with the best resources and facilities to create their pathway to success in fashion and design,” Drummond Lyon said when the project was announced in 2022. “It is my honor to be one among many who are answering the call to support CHES and the University, and to help bring their vision for the future of the apparel and textiles program from conception to reality.”

An “immersive experience”

The aim for centralizing teaching, lab spaces and learning resources at Drummond Lyon Hall was for students to “evolve” beyond classroom instruction, Taylor said. To achieve this, faculty were intentional in where the studios and exhibition spaces would be located and how they were designed, the color of walls and the sizes of the cutting tables. The result is a “clean” look of a real design studio with the functionality of a factory-type setting.

“The entire second floor has become an immersive experience for our students, surrounded by fashion study and the ability to make and create,” Taylor said. “And having everyone together has helped the younger students see what the older students are working on to provide inspiration to their own work.”

A white female student measures a garment in a design studio
Drummond Lyon Hall features a pair of design studios where students can create and alter garments.

The dynamics and versatility of the exhibition galleries drive inspiration further, Saul said. The galleries are spacious and include sound systems and video projectors that allow students to display their course work and private collections, while also allowing for a fully immersive show.

Saul, president of UA’s Student Fashion Association, was one of three students to make the first window display in Drummond Lyon Hall. She says the expanded spaces for displays and exhibitions help improve inclusion.

“Previously, we had space where we could fit maybe three mannequins, which limited how many students could be picked for display,” Saul said. “Now, we can fit 10 [mannequins] and have more students engaged.”

Hidden gems

While students cut their teeth in the design studios and showcase their creations in the exhibition spaces, they conduct their research and ideate in the archives and library.

The archive is in a temperature-controlled room in the basement level of Drummond Lyon Hall and is an omnibus of textile artifacts, featuring samples of garments across different eras of fashion. The archive helps students understand the evolution of designs and garment construction and how those techniques can be incorporated into their own designs.

A white female student works on a fashion design in a library
The library: a space students “have made their own.”

“The archive downstairs is such a great resource,” Saul said. “My fashion show last semester was inspired by the 1920s, and I sat in the library for close to eight hours flipping through books. But now, we can go downstairs, find what we’re looking for, and actually look at garments and feel the fabrics.”

The library, located on the second floor between a studio and gallery, is a hub for both research and collaboration, Taylor said. The library houses volumes of Mademoiselle and Vogue magazines, some dating back to the 1920s. The library also features pin-up boards and lockers for students to store materials and supplies.

“Students use the library as an incubating and collaborative area and to socialize with each other,” Taylor said. “It’s a space that they’ve made their own, and it’s been interesting to see how they’ve utilized it.”

More to learn

Taylor said having “everything in one space” has already improved efficiency, both in students completing tasks and in faculty executing their lessons. Technology upgrades are helping streamline instruction and to “mobilize” classrooms for lectures, demonstrations, and executing projects.

A black woman is fitted for a dress in a design studio
A student is fitted for a dress in one of the design studios in Drummond Lyon Hall.

“We have a great projection system, and the document cameras in the rooms have changed how we teach because we can show how to do pattern making, illustration and intricate hand-sewing skills,” Taylor said. “The camera can capture it live, and the students watch it in real time. Previously, students would crowd around us for a demonstration, which would take a lot of time.”

Taylor said he and other faculty will later conduct a broader assessment of resources, space, student performance and industry standards to determine course design for the future, potentially creating new courses or condensing multiple courses into one.

Beyond instruction, Drummond Lyon Hall offers the potential to grow partnerships and internship pathways. Taylor said industry professionals have toured the building and have been impressed to see the investments into the program, “knowing the talent we’ll have come through here.”

“Drummond Lyon Hall does a lot of talking for the program,” he said. “There’s nothing like this in Alabama or the SEC.”