$20M gift to establish Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson

$20M gift to establish Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

calendar icon13 Jan 2016    

Lincoln, Neb.--Those who want an education at the vanguard of new forms of filmmaking and emerging media -- including virtual production, interactive and mobile media,  film special effects, augmented and virtual reality, game design and more -- will one day get the chance to study at the new Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.      

The university on Friday announced a $20 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation, the charitable arm of the late entertainment icon and University of Nebraska alumnus Johnny Carson, to help create an academic program and facility focused on interdisciplinary learning, creativity and research in emerging media. Pending approval by the NU Board of Regents, the program will be led by the university's Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film within the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts to provide a specialized emphasis in digital virtual production and design.     

UNL and the University of Nebraska Foundation announced the gift during a celebration at the former Nebraska Bookstore building at 1300 Q St., which was purchased by the university in June. About 31,400 square feet of the 55,000-square-foot building will be renovated to be the center's headquarters.      

"Johnny Carson was an innovator of television, which was certainly the emerging media of his era," said Allan Alexander, president and a director of the Johnny Carson Foundation. "Because of this and his legacy at Nebraska, we are especially pleased to support the education endeavors of many future generations who wish to follow in his footsteps as media innovators."   

Jeff Sotzing, an adviser to the Carson Foundation's board of directors and Johnny Carson's nephew, said, "This gift and what it seeks to build upon within higher education will absolutely make a difference in how students today and in the future learn about media and how they master modern trends and advances."     

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said the university is extremely grateful to the Johnny Carson Foundation for its ongoing commitment to the lasting legacy of Johnny Carson on its campus.    

 "This generous investment will once again have an enormous impact on our students," Perlman said. "Johnny Carson's education at Nebraska prepared him to succeed in an era of change, and this gift ensures the university is able to prepare many future generations of students for careers in the ever-changing arena of media arts."      

Charles O'Connor, the Hixson-Lied Endowed Dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, said the gift helps the university build on the success of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and creates new opportunities for students to expand their knowledge of today's emerging media art forms that are positioned at the intersection of film, design, computational technologies and commerce.   

 "This generous support will help the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film reach its goal of increasing access for students wanting to study film and emerging media while building a new program of real regional and national distinction," O'Connor said. "The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is a vision that is unique, innovative and achievable. It will increase the working power of our graduates and their ability to contribute to the growing tech sector in Lincoln and Nebraska. It represents a long-term, strategic partnership between the Johnny Carson Foundation and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, establishing a signature legacy in the name of one of UNL's most distinguished graduates."     

Graduates who complete coursework in the new program will be especially prepared with media arts skills that can be used in various professions, including filmmaking, game design, television production, theater, advertising, social media, business, architecture, science, education and agriculture, among others.    

The university's plan for the Johnny Carson Center includes hiring a director, offering new courses and curriculum, and officially opening it in 2018. Plans also call for increased student enrollment.      

The $20 million gift is directed for renovation and development of the center's physical space and a permanent endowment at the NU Foundation to provide annual support for the Johnny Carson Center's programs and future capital needs. The center will include design and editing labs, scoring and recording studios, video and audio editing rooms, classrooms, sound stage, faculty and staff offices and more.    

The Johnny Carson Center will engage partners from across campus, other universities and the private and public sectors through an advanced development studio, emerging media arts symposium, master classes, internships and more.    

 NU Foundation President and CEO Brian Hastings said the university once again celebrates a long and generous history of support from Carson, the longtime "Tonight Show" host who grew up in Norfolk and who graduated from the university in 1949.   

"Through the years, Johnny Carson and his charitable foundation have made incredible philanthropic investments that have bolstered the university's education in key areas of theater, film, broadcasting and emerging media, truly increasing our strength in these areas," Hastings said. "We cannot thank the Carson Foundation's representatives enough for their care and vision."      

In 1978, Carson established the Johnny Carson Scholarship, a permanently endowed fund to provide awards to Nebraska high school graduates. He made a gift in 1988 to support the construction of the Lied Center for Performing Arts, and the black box theater adjoining the main stage was named the Johnny Carson Theater in his honor.   

 In 2004, Carson gave $5.3 million to support theater and film programs at the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts and to renovate and expand the university's Temple Building, home to the theater program and where Carson studied.

After Carson's 2005 death, the university received a $5 million gift from his estate to create an endowment to support programs in theater, film and broadcasting. The university's theater arts department was renamed the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.     

The Johnny Carson Foundation has given $2.25 million since 2011 in support of the Johnny Carson Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a permanently endowed fund that provides annual scholarship assistance to students from Nebraska who study in the Carson School. In 2013, the foundation made a gift of nearly $600,000 for renovation of the Johnny Carson Theater.

The NU Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that has raised private gifts to support the university for more than 79 years. During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, donors provided the university with $212.7 million for scholarships, academic programs, medical and other research, faculty support and facilities. Our Students, Our Future is the foundation's current initiative to secure broad support for students. For more information, visit http://nufoundation.org.

To read more about the Carson gift and plans, please click here