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December 2, 2002

The arts center

By Eric Rangus

Chemistry is pretty easy to fake. Hollywood couples, reality television show contestants and mismatched officemates do it all the time. When chemistry is real, though, it can be a pretty wonderful thing to watch. Rosemary Magee and Randy Fullerton have just that: real chemistry.

They’ve known one another for about 10 years. Since 1995, they have worked, in various capacities and on various committees, to bring an arts center to the Emory campus.

When a well-publicized arts center project fell through in the mid-1990s, Magee was chosen to chair a committee tasked with picking up the pieces of that unrealized effort. Fullerton, who had been heavily involved in the previous project, was one of the members of that committee. The arts center project team, as the group was named, completed a feasibility study for a new center as well as a brand new idea for an “arts village” to incorporate a dozen facilities on campus that could play host to performing arts.

“I feel very fortunate to have a friend and colleague like Randy,” says Magee, senior associate dean of Emory College and executive director of the arts center project. She was promoted to her senior associate deanship in 1996, but Magee has been on campus since entering graduate school at Emory in 1977. She earned her PhD in the Institute of Liberal Arts in 1982.

“We have very different strengths and abilities,” she continues, “but there have been times when I’ve had some of the most fun in my entire life working on these projects.”

The easy metaphor to use when watching Fullerton and Magee interact is that of a tennis match. The banter goes back and forth, each of them setting the other up for the big

That’s inaccurate, though. Particularly since they don’t really “banter.”

The better comparison, to continue along sports lines, is that Magee and Fullerton are teammates on the power play. Pass, pass, shoot, score. They complement (and frequently compliment) one another. They instinctively know in which direction the other is headed.

Each can pick up a story where the other leaves off to give it just a little more depth as well as a fresh perspective.

“I imagine Rosemary as the truck driver, and I’m just in the back moving stuff around,” says Fullerton, managing director of the arts center project and general manager of Theater Emory, in describing their responsibilities on the project team. “I’m gathering things or individuals and pulling them into the truck and discarding things you don’t need. She’s got the map and the AAA book and is figuring everything out.”

Magee and Fullerton are sitting in the arts commons room of the almost-complete Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Ringing the walls are memorabilia and posters that chronicle that long road leading up to this particular moment, which allows two of the more crucial people in the building’s gestation a little bit of time to reflect.

One easy-to-see difference between Magee and Fullerton is how they tell a story. Magee is somewhat measured in her commentary; Fullerton isn’t.

As Fullerton riffs on his truck references, Magee sits quietly, a slight smile on her face. Her look whimsically asks, What are you talking about . . . and is there a point? Fullerton continues.

“She’s just like, OK, you keep doing that, because I’m driving off to the next place because we’ve got a goal to reach,” he says. “Also, there are some uphill parts where she just stays at the wheel and she knows how to downshift, sometimes grinding the gears.”

Finally, Fullerton pauses. “That does a lot for me. The whole truck driver image.”
The 5-foot-5-inch Magee, relatively soft-spoken and dressed in a rather natty suit, would be a somewhat atypical truck driver, to say the least.

“You want to get people to think outside their normal pathways,” Magee says. “That’s something I learned from working with artists. I’m very goal-oriented, but I used to be a lot more linear. There’s a deadline—that’s a given—but the creative process has to have an open end.”

Being focused on the goal. That is Magee’s strength; driving the effort (or the, umm, truck) to get there is her responsibility.

“If you get focused on the logistics, it’s paralysis,” she continues. “It’s administrative block.”

“That’s good.” This is Fullerton.

“Somebody asked me what I am most looking forward to in this building,” Magee says,
“and I said the surprises.”

In truth, the surprises began several years ago. On Feb. 10, 1999, to be exact. Magee and Fullerton were part of a troupe of Emory representatives who traveled to New York to have dinner at the home of alumnus William Cohen, his family and friends. After Will Ransom, Emerson Professor of Music, entertained the gathering at the piano, Magee, Fullerton and then-college dean Steve Sanderson discussed their plans for an arts center on campus, which at the time was several years in the making. A design had been determined and the project was ready to go. The intent of their pitch, which was being given for the first time, was to drum up possible interest in the project and even a few donations.

When Sanderson, John Ingersoll and Geoff Taylor (from arts and sciences development) met with Marvin Schwartz the next day, the result was an $8 million pledge from him. He had been in attendance at dinner with his wife, Donna, an Emory alumna (their daughter, Elizabeth, also graduated from Emory). The experience gave all of them not only a jolt of confidence but also an ease in going about their business—which was important because Magee had little fundraising experience and Fullerton none at all.

“We had the luxury of working on a project we really believed in,” says Fullerton, who has a master’s of fine arts in technical design and production from Yale. “For me, I was able to break down all the pretenses in the room; it can be intimidating at first, but then you realize people want to hear what you’re working on.”

“Our job was to tell a story,” Magee says. “You couldn’t ask for a better job than that. The Schwartz Center’s fundraising effort was a collaborative effort that included many people dedicated to the arts—President [Bill] Chace, Bill Fox, John Ingersoll, Steve Sanderson, Geoff Taylor, numerous faculty and many, many others.”

Much of the daily work, however, fell upon the fundraising committee—Magee, Fullerton, Emory College development officer Keira Ellis and Laura Jones Hardman, an Emory alumna, trustee and longtime supporter of the arts. “Everybody played a role and gave it their all,” Magee says.

“The chemistry was amazing,” Fullerton says. So were the results. Much of the $36 million needed to construct the center has been raised, and money still comes in through programs such as seat naming.

“You stop being afraid to ask people [for their support],” Magee says. “People are usually flattered when you ask them”

With its opening festivities just a few months away, Fullerton and Magee’s work on the Schwartz Center is winding down, but they will still get to work together. They sit on the arts steering committee, a multidisciplinary group that looks at collaborative ways to address and grow the arts community on campus.

But now the time has come for celebration. On Nov. 20, an appreciation party was held for the committee along with several others who helped make the Schwartz Center’s construction possible. As part of the festivities, Magee announced it was Randy Fullerton Appreciation Day. The guest of honor received a crown (actually a nicely decorated hardhat) and got to sit on a throne (a well-adorned chair). He also was given a vat of M&Ms, the candy of choice at arts center committee meetings.

“I’ve been feeling awkward recently, because this effort is not about me,” says Fullerton, who freely gives away the candy to visitors. “This building is about people. Now I can say that, but deep down inside I’d like the recognition that I’ve been working on this,” he says without a trace of arrogance. Self-effacement is a good quality, but it’s not always appropriate. Oftentimes, a person deserves a slap on the back.

“So, [that night], for me, it was being surrounded by the people I’ve been working with for so many years,” Fullerton says. “They could say ‘thank you’ to me, and I could thank them.”

“This was an opportunity to roast and toast him,” Magee says.

What better way to treat a friend?