Mixed Media

Stoking an Artistic Climate

A UB power couple creates a legacy to help future creative arts students

Photo: Douglas Levere (BA ’89)

By Mary Cochrane

“We thought that if the university put money into bringing accomplished artists to town, there should be money to bring promising students in the arts here too.”
Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the James Agee Professor of American Culture

Bruce Jackson’s mother, Julia, was one of 13 siblings their immigrant parents could not afford to send to college. A poet, Julia instilled a love for learning in her son.

“She took me to the library every Saturday, and there were piano and music lessons the family could ill-afford but which we had because she thought music was necessary,” he recalls. “She delighted in every one of my books. I doubt my career would have taken the trajectory it did had it not been for her encouragement and support.”

Jackson’s wife, Diane Christian, remembers her mother, Ruth Curran, as someone who “loved learning and the arts and young people.” A Latin major and middle-school teacher, “she disciplined by liveliness and humor,” Christian adds.

That love for the arts and literature lived on in Jackson and Christian, both SUNY Distinguished Professors and one of UB’s enduring faculty couples. They recently added a new distinction to their multifaceted careers (Jackson is a writer, photographer and filmmaker; Christian, a poet, author and religious scholar)—that of philanthropists.

The pair has pledged a $1 million bequest in their mothers’ names to support undergraduate and graduate studies in creative and performing arts at UB, through the Julia Jackson Scholarship in the Creative Arts and the Ruth Christian Graduate Fellowship in the Arts.

Christian said they made the commitment “to stoke the artistic climate at UB,” invigorated last year by the new Creative Arts Initiative (CAI), which Jackson co-designed and co-directs with SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder.

CAI hosts world-class artists and performers at the university, such as Ensemble Signal, a new-music supergroup that held the program’s first residency at UB during the spring semester. UB is contributing $1 million for the program over a four-year period “to try to bring some of the fire back,” Jackson says, and help revive what he recalls as “a superb scene in the creative and performing arts.”

“Our bequest gift was, in part, inspired by CAI,” says Jackson. “We thought that if the university put money into bringing accomplished artists to town, there should be money to bring promising students in the arts here too.”