Seamlessly connected to historic Leakin Hall, the “New Building” was built on faith and out of necessity. Several large gifts made it possible to begin construction on the much-needed space designed to house the Arthur Friedheim Music Library, the Peabody Archives, dance studios, practice rooms, classrooms, and offices, but the remaining costs were financed. Since its opening in 1990, a portion of Peabody’s annual budget has been dedicated to paying down this debt.
This story, however, starts way back in 1936 when Charles R. Austrian was elected a trustee of the Peabody Institute. He served in this capacity until his death in June 1956. His wife, Florence H. Austrian, was elected a trustee of the Peabody Institute in 1957 and served until she died on December 13, 1979. Their combined tenure as trustees represents 43 years of continuous service to the Peabody Institute. Minutes of the trustee meetings show them to be very involved in committee work and fully engaged in all aspects of Peabody— he argued for increasing the salaries of the teaching staff and for honoring donor intent and not allowing funds to be diverted if they were gifts to a special area or dedicated to a particular department; she was involved in the decision to keep Peabody in Mt. Vernon, the acquisition of the entire block, including the creation of the dormitory facility, and the creation of the American Conductors Project. In addition to their extensive service, they supported Peabody financially throughout their lifetime, and their son Robert made annual donations as well.
Charles and Florence included Peabody in their will, the payout of which would come to the Institute when their son Robert passed away. More than 25 years after Florence’s death, Peabody received their unrestricted gift of just under $4 million. Ultimately, it was decided that this money would be used to pay off the remaining debt on the New Building and to rename it in honor of this family, who loved the arts and supported this institution with time, talent, and treasure.
— Debbie Kennison