Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ford Center Campaign Honors Chancellor Emeritus Khayat

UM Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat speaks at a 2009 dedication ceremony in the rose garden near the Ford Center. Photo by Harry Briscoe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Organizers of a fundraising campaign for the University of Mississippi’s performing arts center plan to honor Chancellor Emeritus Robert C. Khayat, who led the effort to bring the facility to life 16 years ago.

The Celebrating the Arts campaign aims to increase the endowment of the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts to $3 million. The portion of that effort to honor Khayat will be open to all giving levels through mailed and in-person gifts and the university’s crowdfunding platform, Ignite Ole Miss.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to honor former Chancellor Robert C. Khayat through this Ignite campaign,” said Julia Aubrey, Ford Center director. “His vision for this wonderful facility inspired me as a new faculty member in 1995, and I am honored to continue his efforts to celebrate the arts as the director of the Ford Center.

“Dr. Khayat’s extraordinary generosity, energy and commitment to making this performing arts center a regional arts leader continues to this day.”

The Ford Center opened in 2003 as a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art facility, the only one of its kind in the area. Since then, it has hosted 150 events annually – everything from blues legend B.B. King, operas by national touring companies, best-selling authors, arts events for children and even the 2008 presidential debate.

Each event comes with costs, both overt and hidden. Musicals cost as much as $70,000 to bring to Oxford. The center requires a full-time staff to manage the schedule, reach out to the community and care for the facilities. After near-constant use, the Ford Center requires repairs and upgrades to maintain its beauty and functionality.

While the campaign has already targeted major donors, the Ignite Ole Miss campaign to honor Khayat allows patrons to support the effort at all giving levels.

“It is very fitting this campaign honors Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, who was instrumental in securing the funding and establishing such an outstanding performing arts center on our campus,” Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said.

“For more than 16 years, the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts has provided a rich array of arts and cultural opportunities for our community. This campaign will help ensure that we continue offering vibrant resources and programs to benefit the entire region.”

The Ford Center commissioned a bronze tree sculpture for the building’s lobby to honor major donors to the campaign. As part of this Ignite Ole Miss campaign, a prominent portion of the sculpture will be named for Khayat.

“The bough honoring Dr. Khayat will be unveiled during our inaugural Friendship Ball on May 18,” Aubrey said. “I hope many of his fans will attend and help us celebrate the individual responsible for giving us a lovely home for the performing arts in Oxford, Mississippi.”

Increasing the Ford Center’s endowment provides some permanent funding for years to come, but much more will be needed.

“We are excited about our current capital campaign and the opportunity to honor Chancellor Khayat in this meaningful way,” said Rob Jolly, associate director of development for the Ford Center. “However, the capital campaign is just the beginning. Ongoing private support is crucial to the continued success of the Ford Center.

“Future financial support from generous donors, alumni and friends will help ensure that the Ford Center remains the focal point for the performing arts at Ole Miss and the entire region. It is incumbent on everyone touched by Khayat’s vision to commit themselves to continuing that legacy.”

To make a gift, visit Alumni and friends also can mail a check, with the fund noted in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.

For more information, contact Rob Jolly at 662-015-3085 or

By Angela Atkins

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