Nina Brown, founding director of the Penn State Artists Series, dies

Laura Sullivan
April 05, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State has lost a major friend of the arts with the death of Nina Brown, the longtime director of the precursor to the Center for the Performing Arts. Brown died at the age of 87 on March 28, at her home in northern Virginia.

From its inception and for nearly three decades until her retirement in 1985, Brown directed the Penn State Artists Series. Upon her retirement, the Artists Series and Auditorium Management merged to form the Center for the Performing Arts.

Brown was born in Paris on Nov. 14, 1922. She lived in England and was an officer transporter and ambulance driver during the later part of World War II. In 1945, she met and married Raymond H. Brown, former director of choral music at Penn State. Together, the couple shared a love for music, theater, dance, poetry and travel until he died Sept. 4, 2001.

The Browns lived in Baltimore, Md., where Raymond completed his studies at the Peabody Conservatory and Nina was the school’s music librarian. They moved to State College in 1953 when Raymond joined the Penn State music faculty.

Albert Christ-Janer, the first director of Penn State’s School of the Arts (now the College of Arts and Architecture), created the Artists Series in 1957. During the first season, which began on Sept. 20, 1957, with a performance by soprano Eleanor Steber, Nina presented the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, the American Ballet Theatre and jazz pianist Dave Brubeck.

In the next several seasons, Nina presented the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and National symphony orchestras; actor John Gielgud; guitarist Andres Segovia; violinist Isaac Stern; folk singer Joan Baez and the Modern Jazz Quartet. She also presented a speech by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr. and readings by poets E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore and Archibald MacLeish.

The Artists Series and the Center for the Performing Arts, its successor, have gone on to present a who’s who of great 20th- and 21st-century music, theater and dance artists from six continents.

In May 1999, the 25th anniversary of the opening of Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium, the Center for the Performing Arts awarded Nina its Distinguished Service Award.

In October 2006, Nina, who retired to the Washington, D.C. area, returned to Penn State as guest of honor at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Artists Series founding.

“I know she was very touched by the friends and former colleagues who gathered for that occasion,” says George Trudeau, director of the Center for the Performing Arts.

Trudeau says Brown was a passionate advocate for the arts. He enjoyed hearing about concerts she had attended in her retirement and occasionally receiving a program of an ensemble she thought the center should consider presenting at Penn State.

“She looked forward to hearing about our plans for each season, and I was honored to hear her positive responses to our programming,” Trudeau says. “In honor of her legacy, I am pleased to announce that the 2010-11 Center for the Performing Arts season will be dedicated to the memory of Nina Brown.”

Last Updated January 10, 2015