It would be difficult to overstate the impact that Sebastian Paul Musco – simply known as “Paul” to his friends and the many thousands of people whose lives he touched – has had on Chapman University. His generosity knew no bounds – and, among his countless other achievements, led to the planning, creation and opening of his proudest legacy: our beautiful Musco Center for the Arts, which opened its doors to the public and the campus community in 2016.
Paul’s peaceful passing, on September 18, 2021 at the age of 95, means that a giant has left us. But what a life he had, and what an astonishing legacy he leaves to all of us.
“It’s hard to imagine being without him here,” said Richard Bryant, executive director of Musco Center, told the Orange County Register. “He attended performances here all the time with his beloved Marybelle and other members of his family. He was joyous; he cared about everybody here. He wanted the center to be the best of the best — and he loved the students.”
Paul and Marybelle Musco first became interested in Chapman University in 2003, via an invitation to American Celebration, the annual fund-raising gala student performance now known as Chapman Celebrates. “We didn’t know Chapman or (then-Chapman-president) Jim Doti or even what American Celebration was,” Paul would recall a few years later. “But we sat at the head table, and we learned a lot.”
The Muscos were enthralled by the stage show featuring students of the College of Performing Arts. Then, during the gala dinner that followed, the Muscos noticed a university staff member whisper something to President Doti, whose face couldn’t conceal his disappointment. The event had fallen $46,000 short of the established fundraising goal of $1 million.
Without hesitation, Paul told the president he would contribute what was needed to get the event over the hump. “Jim got all excited and jumped up (to make an announcement),” Paul recalled later. “I told him, ‘If you mention my name, you won’t get a penny.’” President Doti grinned, sat down — and a beautiful friendship was christened.
“Now whenever I talk to people, I’m always bragging about Chapman,” Paul, who became a Chapman Trustee shortly thereafter, told Chapman’s Pinnacle Magazine in 2010. “I walk the campus and I say, ‘Hi, how are you? Do you have any complaints? Because if you do, I’m the one to talk to.’ But all I see are smiles.”
Plans for a state-of-the-art performing arts center on the Chapman campus had long been bubbling, with little progress — but when the Muscos came aboard, the visualization, planning and subsequent construction hit warp speed as they chaired the fundraising committee and led the way. The Muscos, who contributed $39 million to the project, and side-by-side with Musco Center’s Founding Dean, Dr. William Hall, took an interest in and oversaw many details of the center’s genesis and fruition, from design and color choices to the workings of the hall itself.
“It was that personal involvement that created this fabulous design, this acoustic-superb tool for the advancement of performing arts education at Chapman,” Bryant said. “That’s what they wanted and that’s what they did. The true definition of philanthropy begins with engagement. He was the best.”
During the Center’s two-year construction process, Paul was a constant promoter of the project, talking it up to everyone he met – his eyes brightening and energy expanding as he spoke. As the opening day drew nearer, his energy burgeoned, Bryant recalls. “How many of us can say that we lived to see our legacy take its concrete, fullest form? Paul did. The grand opening of Musco Center for the Arts in March of 2016 was one of his proudest moments – he was there to see this long-held dream come true, the beginning of a new era in performing arts for Chapman’s students and our audiences.”
But even in the midst of all the glitter and glamor, the true Paul Musco came out: the man who cared about the smallest details and who truly cared about all people. He insisted that every employee at his company, Gemini Industries, and every person who participated on the contracting and construction crews who built the Center, receive tickets to the first performance, that once-in-a-lifetime moment when the Musco Center stage came to life with musicians, dancers and singers.
And from that day on, Paul and Marybelle were regularly in attendance, giving standing ovations to many of the greatest performing artists in the world who graced the Musco Center stage –and with equal enthusiasm for the Chapman student ensembles and soloists who performed there. He loved the students and wanted only the best for them.
How did he make it happen? What it all came down to, for Paul Musco, was one simple concept. “It’s a four-letter word – w-o-r-k,” he told Pinnacle. “It’s having a dream and then working to make it happen. There are those who have a dream and wish for their dream to come true, and there are those who have a dream and MAKE their dream come true.”
Paul Musco was truly one of the makers, the doers, the achievers. His biography and the long, long list of his philanthropic generosity can be read in the many other tributes that have appeared since his passing.
As for us, we can only say: Paul, we will miss you, always. But if anyone seeks your monument, they need only to look around them here at Musco Center. As you would agree, it’s not just the building, as stunning and advanced as it is: it’s the people within it who bring the building to life.
The audiences who cheer and whose lives are transformed by the arts. The performers whose talents are enhanced by the stellar acoustics and uncompromising excellence of our acclaimed hall.
And the students who perform and learn here, who are the artists of tomorrow and the generations to come.
They are your proudest triumph and your living legacy. Thank you.