Enhancing the Arts Through Philanthropy

Prior Performing Arts Center at sunset

How Recent Arts Gifts are Supporting Academic Excellence and Community

With the opening of the Prior Performing Arts Center, Holy Cross’s significant investment in the arts has reached an exciting peak.

The College is pleased to announce three generous gifts enhancing the arts: the Nancy Savage Skinner ’79 Fund for Experiential and Integrative Learning in the Creative, Performing and Liberal Arts; the Nancy Savage Skinner ’79 Director of the Prior Performing Arts Center; and  the Heidi Brake Smith ’82 Fund for the Arts.

These gifts make countless new opportunities in theatre, music, dance and more possible for students, thanks to the generous support of those who were impacted by the arts, and who now want to share similar experiences with the Holy Cross community.

Activating the Prior Performing Arts Center

Growing up in Queens, Nancy Savage Skinner’s ’79 love of the arts was jump-started by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was located across the street from her high school. At Holy Cross, she loved attending the packed Wednesday night movie showings in the Seelos Theatre behind the dining hall. As she and Stephen P. Skinner ’77, who met at Holy Cross, started their own family, the arts became one of their family pillars – they watched all the Oscar-nominated films in preparation for the Academy Awards, they visited galleries on Newbury Street that catered to emerging artists, they held regular movie nights and they frequented the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass., particularly to watch short films. Nancy saw each of these as opportunities to engage in discussion and community.

“She really thought the arts were a way that people could commune together and then engage in dialogue, and that's what really attracted her to supporting them,” Stephen Skinner explained. 

Nancy’s belief in the arts is what inspired Skinner, a member of the board of trustees, to endow, in her memory, the Nancy Savage Skinner ’79 Fund for Experiential and Integrative Learning in the Creative, Performing and Liberal Arts. The fund empowers students to develop career-ready skills through experiential learning and academic research opportunities such as internships, intensive summer residences, faculty-led research labs focused on the economics of the arts industry, professional development programs and more. 

Creating opportunities for young people to advance their interest in art was one of Nancy's true passions. I couldn't think of a better way to honor her.

Stephen P. Skinner ’77

Through the fund, Savage Skinner Fellows will be able to take advantage of unique opportunities to get in-depth experience learning the business of the arts.

“My belief is that there will be a group of students who make a career out of the arts,” Skinner said. “Nancy would be over the moon about what we are able to do for these students who are interested in the arts. There will be generations of students that will benefit from this.”

Bill and Jane Mosakowski P08, who have been close friends and business partners with Skinner for 40 years, as well as parents of Rachel ’08, also wanted to honor Nancy’s deep belief in the community-building power of the arts. With a $3 million gift through the Mosakowski Family Charitable Foundation, they have endowed the Nancy Savage Skinner ’79 Director of the Prior Performing Arts Center. With the support of the endowed fund, this critical leadership role positions the College as a leading academic destination for the creative and performing arts, and reaffirms Holy Cross’ role as a collaborative partner supporting and enhancing the arts ecosystem in the Worcester community.

Inspired by Nancy, the Mosakowskis hope their gift makes an impact both on campus and beyond. “I hope that through this role, the Prior Performing Arts Center binds Holy Cross more completely with the community around it,” Bill Mosakowski explained. “The performing arts center really does offer a different platform – a stage for people to bring forth other talents that we may not have seen and experienced as much,” he continued. 

It’s a great opportunity to continue to highlight the role of creativity and performance on campus – it is an incredible opportunity to go deeper in these directions. The facility is the start, and now it’s time to put into place the resources and programming. It’s really exciting to see where it will go.

Bill Mosakowski P08

Community-Building Programming

Just like the Skinners and Mosakowskis, Heidi Brake Smith ’82 shares a passion for the arts. Though she admits she cannot paint or sing herself, Brake Smith still holds a deep love for each discipline and a belief that arts programming is an avenue for building community.

“I'm a big supporter of a lot of arts programming, and I like to say I use the broadest brush for it. It doesn’t have to be just visual arts, performing arts or music – it can be any of those.”

One such program is already in place, thanks to Brake Smith’s $1.5 million fund to support programs in the Prior Performing Arts Center. The Heidi Brake Smith ’82 Fund for the Arts is designed to enhance the role of the arts in every aspect of the Holy Cross experience by funding opportunities to infuse the arts into students’ academic lives and create new interdisciplinary opportunities throughout the curriculum and the community.

This endowment funds residencies with visiting artists through the Prior Presents series, which merges live events by visiting artists with robust educational and outreach activities. Brake Smith, a former trustee and the first female graduate of Holy Cross to gift more than $1 million to the College, welcomed the opportunity to target her support while remaining flexible to support multiple disciplines within the arts over the years, including visual art, dance, poetry, music, theatre and beyond.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, an acclaimed photographer, lectures to students
Contemporary photographer and 2015 MacArthur Fellow LaToya Ruby Frazier speaks to visual arts students in the Millard Art Center
LaToya Ruby Frazier, an acclaimed photographer, lectures at the Prior Performing Arts Center
LaToya Ruby Frazier, an acclaimed photographer, lectures at the Prior Performing Arts Center

In November 2023, the College welcomed the fund’s first artist-in-residence, LaToya Ruby Frazier, an acclaimed photographer who uses her art to preserve forgotten narratives of labor, gender and race. Frazier’s public lecture, “Art as Transformation: Using Photography for Social Change,” filled the Luth Concert Hall with 250 students, faculty, staff and community members for a discussion about Frazier’s experience bringing together art, social justice and concerns for the environment. Frazier also visited with Holy Cross students in studio art and environmental studies classes and connected with Worcester Public School students enrolled in an art history course through the Worcester Art Museum.

As the artist residencies and events continue to build momentum, Brake Smith is excited for the  ways the program will grow, the artists it will attract and the impact it will make on the community – both at Holy Cross and throughout Worcester.

“I really believe that arts institutions like the Prior Performing Arts Center are so important for our community building,” she said. “This is where people come together. If you make a space that’s quite beautiful, which the Prior is, with all these unique opportunities to express oneself in many ways, you bring people together. That’s always been my goal.”

A Mission-Driven Future

With the support of gifts like these, the growth of the arts on campus is flourishing under the College’s current strategic vision, Aspire – underscoring the arts’ importance to both community building and liberal arts education. These gifts also help the Prior Performing Arts Center establish itself and its programming as a pillar of the arts community within Greater Worcester, strengthening connections among Holy Cross and the city. As the College looks to the future, the generous support of donors will ensure the arts continue to thrive as a fundamental component of academic and cocurricular life at Holy Cross.