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University of Memphis theatre building to be named

<p>The theatre building on the University of Memphis main campus. It has remained with a generic name since its construction in 1966.</p>
The theatre building on the University of Memphis main campus. It has remained with a generic name since its construction in 1966.

The Theatre Building, home to the Department of Theatre & Dance at the University of Memphis, will have an official name by next year, by way of donor James A. Humphreys.

The building, which has remained nameless since its construction in 1966, will soon become the Edward and Bernice Humphreys Theatre Building. The Office of University Advancement estimates a Spring 2023 unveiling.

Dr. Joanna Curtis, vice president of advancement, says much of the year-long timeframe accounts for the construction of the signage, which may take longer than usual due to the worker and raw material shortages across the country.

"Since we're talking about big signs that have to match all the others on campus, we want to make sure we have enough time to get it done," said Curtis. "It could get done before [Spring 2023], but we want to make allowances for that." 

The Edward and Bernice Humphreys Theatre Building will be one of many buildings on campus named after prominent donors, including the Fogelman College of Business & Economics Buildings alongside the Michael D. Rose Theatre and Lecture Hall.

The Theatre Building sits between the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, named after the local arts philanthropist in 2000, and the Art and Communication Building. Facing Central Avenue, a widely used street in Memphis, the building is seen potentially by hundreds of drivers every day. Over the years, several donors have expressed interest due to the building's salient location, but none have committed until now.

"There's certainly been a great desire to have another important name on the other side of the breezeway," said Jacob Allen, chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance.

James A. Humphreys, a retired real estate investor and local arts philanthropist made this generous donation to honor his parents. 

Having both attended the University of Memphis, Bernice and Edward were loyal patrons of the school throughout their golden years. Namely, the Humphreys were members of the Columns Society, a group of "generous and visionary individuals who have included the University of Memphis in their current or deferred planned giving."

It is unclear whether they were involved in the arts during their time at Memphis, but it is known to be an area of interest to their son, James.

For James A. Humphrey, the Theatre Building benefaction was not his first philanthropic endeavor at Memphis.

In 2005, James created a scholarship opportunity for students also in honor of his parents. The Edward G and Bernice A Humphreys Fellowship (General) is open to all undergraduate and graduate students, and the amount of money awarded varies.

James was also pivotal in supporting the Memphis-Shelby County Public Library during its inception in the early 2000s. 

The process of naming a campus building is thorough. Once a donor comes forward, the contribution must be approved, after consideration, by the Gift-in-Kind Acceptance Committee. They then recommend it to the president of the university for either approval or denial. Once approved, the gift must be accepted by the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees, an 8-member committee, is "responsible for the governance and strategic direction of the University." They serve as the official body that can commit to the naming of any university property. 

From there, the process is carried out by an assigned liaison from the Office of University Advancement, in close coordination with the dean of the proposed college, which in this case was Dr. Anne Hogan, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts. 

"On behalf of the College of Communication and Fine Arts and the Department of Theatre and Dance, I want to acknowledge how deeply grateful we are to Mr. James Humphreys for his generous support of the College and the Department of Theatre and Dance," Hogan said.

The Department of Theatre & Dance plans to host an unveiling ceremony in Spring 2023 to recognize Mr. Humphrey's donation. 

"We are extremely grateful to this donor and glad that this gift will bring additional resources to our department to enrich the educational opportunities and programs for our students," Allen said. "While his intent was to honor his parents, he's in turn supporting the university's mission of quality education."

The theatre building on the University of Memphis main campus. It has remained with a generic name since its construction in 1966.

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