In 1998, the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, awarded the University of Mississippi $20 million to design and build the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Oxford campus. An additional $5 million from the Ford Foundation paired with funding from the state resulted in a total of $30 million to complete the project. At six stories tall and 88,000 square feet, the Ford Center features two performance spaces, state-of-the-art theatrical production facilities, excellent acoustic qualities, well-appointed lobbies and comfortable seating for 1,169 in the main hall.
Among the premier performing venues in the region, the Ford Center hosts an average of 150 events annually. It is the centerpiece of the university’s cultural and scholarly mission to present the finest in the performing arts and visiting lecturers. Prince Edward, the King of Jordan, Janet Reno, Cornell West, James Earl Jones, Doris Kearns Goodwin, James Meredith and Thomas Friedman are among a growing list of authors and noted intellectuals that have appeared in the Ford Center. Morgan Freeman, Hal Holbrook, Renée Fleming, B.B. King, Marty Stuart, Hilary Hahn, Mavis Staples, Vince Gill and Michael Bolton are only a few of the performers that have appeared on the stage of the Ford Center in a vigorous schedule of performances that also includes national tours of Broadway shows.
In 2008, global eyes turned on Oxford and the Ford Center. After being open only five years, the Ford Center hosted the 2008 presidential debate between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama. Faculty, staff, and students from across campus, along with community leaders, planned the event for months. Community and school events peppered the center’s calendar in weeks leading up to the debate on Sept. 26, 2008. Thousands of journalists and political pundits from around the world gathered in Oxford and on the Ole Miss campus in days leading up to the event, and the debate stands as one of the marquee events hosted at the center.
This year, the Ford Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a diverse slate of performances, an expanded offering for area school children, a book, and a spring gala featuring Mississippi celebrities and friends.