University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Hub of Creativity

Cohens’ gift funds integrated arts center

Kelly DiDeo and Darina Mernicky tour Taft School
Kelley Di Dio, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and project manager Darina Mernicky tour a Taft School space that has already been renovated. The entire building is scheduled to open fall 2018. Photograph by Sally McCay


Hub of Creativity

Cohens’ gift funds integrated arts center

PHILANTHROPY | As Kelley Di Dio and Darina Mernicky walk the halls of Elihu B. Taft School, at the corner of South Williams and Pearl streets, they talk with admiration for the history and beauty of a 1939 Works Project Administration building, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt among the names inscribed on a bronze plaque at the entrance.

But Di Dio, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of art history, and Mernicky, UVM’s project manager for the Taft renovation, are primarily focused on this old building’s new life, home to the university’s first integrated center for the creative arts.

A lead gift of $5 million from Michele Resnick Cohen ’72 and her husband, Martin Cohen, supports the initiation of this transformative project. The space will include galleries, studios, classrooms, and exhibition and performance spaces that will encompass the disciplines of art, art history, dance, theatre, music, film and television studies, and more.

Michele Cohen is a member of the UVM Foundation Board of Directors, and is also active in various education, nonprofit and arts-related boards in New York City. She is a long-time trustee at Alfred University, and currently serves as the chair of the board of trustees at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

“We are so grateful to Michele and Marty for continuing our more than 225-year tradition of liberal arts education, integrating the humanities, the fine arts, business, and the sciences to promote broad and deep learning for our students,” said UVM President Tom Sullivan. “When we put heads, hearts, and hands together to study the arts, creativity is unleashed in all aspects of the education process.”

Bill Falls, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “This transformative gift will not only create a hub of collaboration and creativity; it will give us the opportunity we have been longing for, to rightly place the arts at the forefront of the college, as a public face of UVM commensurate with the quality of the scholarship and teaching, and mirroring one of the essential qualities of Vermont, a commitment to and strength in the arts.”

Di Dio has helped lead a process working with faculty and architectural consultants to assess facilities needs in the arts across campus and create a plan for how to best leverage the newly renovated space. Digital arts and creative work that bridges artistic disciplines will be the focus at Taft. Work is under way at the school with plans to have the building open for use, initially as classroom space, with the fall 2018 semester.  On-going fundraising supports fully realizing the vision for Taft.

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