18:00 PM

$6 million gift to create Lawrence and Isabel Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise

Ohio State University alumnus and entertainment industry leader Lawrence Barnett has committed $6 million to the university to enhance arts facilities and education.

The gift to the university's College of Arts and Sciences will establish the multi-disciplinary Lawrence and Isabel Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise, a collaborative effort to engage students in learning not only how to be successful and creative professional artists, but also successful and entrepreneurial business people in the arts. It also supports renovations to Sullivant Hall, a focal point for many of the arts at Ohio State, which is set to reopen next year.

Barnett and his late wife Isabel Barnett have supported Ohio State students in the arts for many years, through the Barnett Fellowship for graduate students in Art Education, the biennial Barnett Arts and Public Policy Symposium, and the Barnett Distinguished Visiting Lecturers Series, which has brought both Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier to campus.

The renovated Sullivant Hall, new home for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, will also house the College of Arts and Sciences' departments of dance and art education, as well as the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, which will interact with the new Barnett Center. Sullivant will be a crux of arts activities, with gallery spaces for student exhibitions, a state-of-the-art performance space, collaborative research facilities, and quarters for guest artists and scholars, as well as the designated home for Barnett Scholars. The gift also supports the new Barnett Conference Room and the Barnett Theatre in Sullivant.

From his home in California, Mr. Barnett said, “The arts and artists have always been so important to my wife, Isabel, and me. Getting my degree from Ohio State was a key to my success, and it is particularly meaningful to help today’s students develop into professional artists as well as businesspeople in the arts. We are so proud of the meaningful careers our graduates have established. It’s an honor to broaden our involvement and hope that many more people will decide to support the arts."

A native of Orrville, Ohio, Barnett attended Ohio State in the 1930s, and worked his way through school by booking his Larry Barnett Orchestra in venues around Columbus. One quarter short of graduating, he became ill. While recovering, he was offered a job with the Columbia Broadcasting System Artist Bureau, and left for California to become a booking agent. He handled the careers of big band stars, such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo, and the careers of motion picture stars including Jack Benny, George Burns, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando and Ronald Reagan.

Barnett later became president of Music Corporation of America (MCA), chairman and president of General Artists Corporation (GAC), executive vice president of Chris-Craft Industries and vice chairman and director of United Television Inc. He married actress Isabel Bigley, who at the time was performing in the hit London production of Oklahoma. Mrs. Barnett won theatre’s highest honor, a Tony Award, for her role as Sarah Brown in the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. She hosted the TV program Café Continental and appeared on the programs of Ed Sullivan, Eddie Fisher, and the game show What’s My Line. She donated her extensive collection of theatre memorabilia to Ohio State’s Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute in 1993. Larry and Isabel raised six children and shared 53 years of marriage until Mrs. Barnett’s death in 2006.

"From his days on campus in the 1930s to his commitment and support of students over the years, Larry Barnett has been a true champion of young people pursuing their arts degrees at Ohio State,” said Joseph Steinmetz, executive dean and vice provost, College of Arts and Sciences. “The Barnetts’ vision and noble generosity will prepare our students for life-long accomplishments in their fields, and the Lawrence and Isabel Barnett Center will be an innovative and highly visible anchor for Ohio State's revitalized arts district."

The gift will expand Barnett’s vision of preparing students for their careers in the arts via involvement in new undergraduate degrees and minors in arts management. The center will reach out to the community as well, promoting Mrs. Barnett’s passion for the arts by partnering with local professional arts organizations for performance opportunities and collaborative projects.

Said E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State, “Larry Barnett has been both a treasured friend and a personal inspiration to me since my first tenure at Ohio State. Throughout the years, he and his late wife Isabel demonstrated a unique commitment to the arts, in particular to helping our students develop their talents as young artists. I am deeply grateful to Larry and Isabel for their extraordinary commitment. Thanks to the remarkable foresight and generosity of Larry and Isabel, our students, faculty, and staff are able to pursue excellence in all manners of the arts and human expression. That is surely a legacy that will only deepen over time.”

After Mr. Barnett retired, he contacted Ohio State about his unfinished degree, and ultimately completed his coursework, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1988 from the Fisher College of Business. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Ohio State in recognition of his outstanding work in entertainment and business.

For a photo of Larry and Isabel Barnett, email Amy Murray