“Just as she lived a productive and creative life with extraordinary commitment to our community, she has left a legacy that will fuel creativity for future generations in our community and beyond.”
– Renu Khator, UH President
Cynthia Woods Mitchell, one of twin girls born in 1922, was a long-standing lover of the arts. She came to Houston in 1939 to begin her college life at the University of Houston, studying literature, art and psychology. During her life, she was an impassioned environmentalist and avid historical preservationist influencing many causes and projects with her strong sense of creativity and appreciation for quality. Her interests and philanthropies extended across the arts and sciences.
In late 2003, George Mitchell, in honor of his wife, contributed an endowment that would impact and support each of the University of Houston’s arts programs. Working closely with UH leadership, the Mitchell family proposed a programmatic alliance among the School of Art, Moores School of Music, the School of Theatre & Dance, as well as the Creative Writing Program and Blaffer Art Museum, and so the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts was formed. These five units formed the board of directors, and it was determined that a $16 million endowment would be designated for interdisciplinary art programs, and $4 million would cover the renovation of the School of Theatre & Dance facility, making room for new studios, a lobby for the Wortham Theatre and offices for the Mitchell Center staff. The building was renamed the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
In its early months, the Mitchell Center’s operations were overseen solely by the board of directors. In December 2005, Karen Farber became the first full-time director with a mandate to develop a cohesive vision and program for the Mitchell Center while planning for its future. In its first few years, the Mitchell Center offered extensive public events, residencies and commissions; developed a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum for UH students; and continued to fund scholarships and fellowships on an annual basis. In 2020, Dean Andrew Davis appointed Interim Managing Director, Melissa Noble, and Artistic Director, Steven Matijcio, to continue overseeing and developing these programs. The board of directors continues to provide guidance, and with the leadership of the Managing, Artistic Directors and the Dean of the College of the Arts, the programs at the Mitchell Center continue to thrive.
In December 2009 Cynthia Woods Mitchell died at age 87 surrounded by family at her home in The Woodlands. "She was a force of nature," the Mitchell family said in a prepared statement. "Our family will always remember the dynamic, colorful person that she was: intelligent, altruistic, totally original and hilariously funny. Her kindnesses are remembered by people she barely knew."
Honoring Cynthia Woods Mitchell's lifelong commitment to the arts, the Mitchell Center exists to promote innovative collaboration and interchange between artists, performers, writers and scholars, faculty and students across disciplines, thus empowering the discovery of new directions and possibilities in art.
By supporting these conditions of possibility, the creative efforts of one art form can become an influence or resource for another to foster new artistic endeavors, challenging previous understandings of contemporary art. From this new understanding comes works of art that bridge boundaries, propagate knowledge, generate new perspectives and inspire creative solutions to real-world problems.
Through developing partnerships with Houston artistic and cultural institutions, the Mitchell Center is committed to making its programs available to the local community. In the examination and celebration of the human condition, these activities and programs intend to transform society through the creative use of human intellect, passion and imagination.