Johnny Carson Foundation gives $2.5 million to create endowed directorship for Carson Center

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts opened in the fall of 2019. Photo courtesy of HDR/Dan Schwalm.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has announced a $2.5 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation to create an endowed directorship for the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

Megan Elliott is the inaugural Johnny Carson Endowed Director in Emerging Media Arts, thanks to a gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation.

Megan Elliott, the founding director of the center, is the first recipient and will be known as the Johnny Carson Endowed Director in Emerging Media Arts. The directorship provides an annual salary stipend and discretionary income to support research, programmatic needs or other strategic initiatives.

The gift made to the University of Nebraska Foundation is being announced during the week of what would be Johnny Carson’s 97th birthday. It also precedes a special weekend Oct. 28-30, when members of the Johnny Carson Foundation will be in Lincoln to celebrate Carson’s legacy at the university. They will meet with students and faculty in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts and Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, attend a performance of “Chicago” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts and be recognized during the football game Oct. 29.

“The Johnny Carson Foundation continues its amazing partnership with the university to create the premier destination for faculty and students who reside in the future at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “I deeply appreciate its generous support for Johnny’s alma mater and our continued friendship as we share a commitment to transform the educational experience of students studying emerging media arts. Johnny was a pioneer of the emerging technology of his day — television. By supporting an endowment to create this Johnny Carson Endowed Directorship, we ensure that the Carson Center will continue to be led in perpetuity by transformational leaders like Megan Elliott.”

In addition, the Carson Lecture Series returns this weekend for the first time following the pandemic and will feature comedian Pat Hazell and special guest Teresa Ganzel, a recurring cast member of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” The lecture is 3:30 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Nebraska Union’s Swanson Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public, but free tickets are required and available at go.unl.edu/carsonlecture. The Carson Lecture Series was created to celebrate the contributions of entertainment icon and Husker alumnus Carson.

Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Dean Andy Belser also appreciates the special relationship the university has with the Johnny Carson Foundation.

Johnny Carson. Photo courtesy of Carson Entertainment Group.

“Our college proudly carries the name of Johnny Carson on the Carson Center, the Carson School, the Carson Scholarships and now this Johnny Carson Endowed Directorship for the Carson Center,” Belser said. “The Johnny Carson Foundation understands our need to both recruit and retain top talent for the position of director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts like we have now in Megan Elliott. Her vision has helped shaped the creation of the Carson Center and transformed it into a vital hub of interdisciplinary research and creativity. I deeply appreciate their support and partnership.”

Allan Alexander, president and a director of the Johnny Carson Foundation said: “We could not be happier with the work of inaugural director Megan Elliott. In just a few short years, and faster than expected, she has transformed the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts from a dream to a reality. She is a world-class leader, and it is our great pleasure to provide her with this endowed directorship with the hopes that she will remain at the Carson Center well into the future.”

There are 125 students majoring in emerging media arts this fall. A key part of the Carson Center’s curriculum is preparing students for hugely disruptive forces in artificial intelligence and virtual production that have changed the face of several industries, including film.

Additional gifts from the Johnny Carson Foundation have supported the purchase of specialized laptops for all emerging media arts students.

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, on Oct. 23, 1925, and grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. He served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy in World War II before enrolling in the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a Bachelor of Arts in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.

Carson hosted “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1962 to 1992. He earned six Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993, where the Cornhusker Marching Band helped serenade him.

Elliott is the founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. She was a co-founder and director of the internationally acclaimed digital media think tank X Media Lab, which she took to 14 countries and 22 cities around the world. She currently serves as a member of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development’s Research Advisory Board.

History of support from Johnny Carson and the Johnny Carson Foundation

Below is a highlight of key gifts made by Johnny Carson and the Johnny Carson Foundation:

  • 1978 — Johnny Carson established the Johnny Carson Scholarship Fund as a permanent endowment to provide scholarship awards to students with demonstrated academic ability.
  • 1988 — Carson provided a gift to support the construction of the Lied Center for Performing Arts, and the black box theater adjoining the main stage was named the Johnny Carson Theater in his honor.
  • 2004 — Johnny Carson donated $5.3 million to support theatre and film programs in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. The funding also enabled the renovation and expansion of the Temple Building at 12th and R streets, home to the theatre program and where Carson studied.
  • 2005 — Following Carson’s death on Jan. 23, 2005, the university received a $5 million gift from his estate for endowed support of programs in theatre, film and broadcasting. The university renamed its Department of Theatre Arts to the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
  • 2010 — The Johnny Carson Foundation established the Johnny Carson Opportunity Scholarship as a $1 million endowed fund in Carson’s honor.
  • 2013 — Renovation of the Johnny Carson Theater at the Lied Center for Performing Arts was made possible with a gift of $571,500 from the Johnny Carson Foundation.
  • 2015 — The Johnny Carson Foundation announced a $20 million gift to create the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, which opened in fall 2019.
  • 2021 — A $5 million gift was announced to further support the Johnny Carson Opportunity Scholarship Fund and to provide more annual student scholarships to students enrolled in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

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