Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts opens

A late winter sun shone brightly on the new Moody Center for the Arts building and on the enthusiastic crowd gathered on the center’s front terrace and lawn for the Feb. 24 dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting. The 50,000-square-foot, $30 million center will serve as an internationally focused arts institution, built as a free public platform for creating collaborative works of all kinds and for presenting innovative, transdisciplinary experiences to the public and the university community.

“The Moody is an experimental space for both fabrication and exhibition, with an equal emphasis on process and presentation,” said Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody, who welcomed Houston civic officials, leaders of fellow cultural institutions throughout the city, donors, artists, students, faculty, staff, alumni and the public to the ceremony. “It’s an extraordinarily flexible teaching space to encourage new modes of making, learning and presenting. And it’s a forum for creative partnerships with visiting national and international artists as well as the Houston arts community.”

Debbie McNulty, director of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office of Cultural Affairs, expressed excitement about the Moody’s potential for the cultural life of the city. “We’re so happy to have Rice play an integral part in the cultural dialogue happening in Houston and helping to develop the next generations of artistic voices that will come out of our city. The city of Houston commends Rice University … for this new contribution to the collective creativity that continues to make Houston great.”

Located on the west side of Rice’s campus at Entrance 8 at Stockton and University Boulevard, the Moody was designed by acclaimed Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan with an eye toward creating a sense of openness and possibility. Three large and distinctive “lantern” structural elements serve as focal points and metaphorical beacons. Two can be seen at each end of the northern arcade, supported by the “starburst” columns, and the third houses the center’s coffee lounge. The gray brick second story appears to change color with the weather, levitating over a ground floor that’s almost all floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, the building glows from inside.

“It’s an extraordinary day for an architect,” Maltzan said. “It’s especially an extraordinary day when the building starts to have life, when people start to use the building and when it truly comes alive. And over the last day, day and a half, we’ve begun to see that. And you can begin to imagine that life over the coming year, over the coming years, and how exciting that’s going to be for the building … (and) I think for the Rice community.”

Days in advance of its public opening, the Moody was recognized by Architectural Digest magazine as one of the best new university buildings in the world. “Given Rice University’s consistent ranking as one of the best architecture schools in the U.S. for both undergraduate and graduate studies, it’s no surprise that its campus in Houston is dotted with award-winning architecture,” the magazine wrote.

Development of the Moody was made possible by a lead gift from the Texas-based Moody Foundation, a charitable organization with an emphasis on education, social services, children’s needs and community development, with additional generous support from the Brown Foundation, the Elkins Foundation, the Gilder Foundation, Rice alumni Nancy ‘80 and Clint Carlson ’79 and other donors. Additional support for programs and operations came from major contributions from Rice alumna Suzanne Deal Booth ‘77, alumni Leslie ‘69 and Brad Bucher ‘65 and many others.

“Without the visionary leadership of Ross Moody and the Moody Foundation, we wouldn’t be standing here today,” Weaver said. “The foundation came to Rice with the idea that a building dedicated to the arts would be a vital addition to the campus. And they were so right.”

“The Moody Foundation realized that the (Moody) Center for the Arts fills a need that existed at Rice University,” said Ross Moody, chairman of the Moody Foundation, whose daughter Elle graduated from Rice in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in art history. “(The Moody is) a place where art exhibition and education intersect and fosters connections across multiple disciplines and across Houston, the state and the nation.”

Rice Board of Trustees Chair Bobby Tudor ’82 read a message from President David Leebron, who was unable to attend the ceremony. “The Moody Center is part of our growing and ongoing commitment to the arts’ role in the educational experience at Rice and to the intellectual experience visitors to our campus enjoy,” Leebron wrote. “It joins the other artistic and creative endeavors here at Rice to help build the growing recognition of this university as an arts beacon to the world.”

Following the ceremony, the attendees toured the Moody’s exhibition spaces, 150-seat studio theater and classrooms. Later that evening, the Moody held an opening party featuring live music by the Tontons and refreshments from food trucks. Festivities continued Feb. 25 and 26, when the Moody opened its doors to the public for its first full days and a range of events, including a panel discussion featuring renowned photographer Thomas Struth and the works in his Moody exhibition, “Nature & Politics.” At the nearby James Turrell “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace on the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, the Moody hosted the world premiere of “Vespertine Awakenings,” a commissioned dance work by New York City’s Dušan Týnek Dance Theater, conceived in response to the Turrell artwork and presented with an original musical score by composer Kurt Stallmann of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music.

The Houston Chronicle, in its article on the opening, reported that the Moody “checks off the first of three major building projects that will dramatically elevate the city’s arts profile in the next five years. The Menil Drawing Institute is scheduled to open in October; while the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston expects to open its new Glassell School of Art building in early 2018 and its new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building in the fall of 2019.”

For information about the Moody’s inaugural season throughout the year, which will feature works and events by artists including Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Struth, Diana Thater, inaugural artist-in-residence Mona Hatoum, the Tokyo-based digital “ultra-technologists” of teamLab, and Dušan Týnek Dance Theater, go to http://moody.rice.edu.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.