Patrick Wall, Style Editor

The rain may have been falling last Saturday, but grey skies couldn’t dampen the electric feeling at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. Students, faculty and community members gathered for the fourth annual Arts by George! fundraiser.

Arts by George! is an annual fundraiser presented by Mason to raise money for scholarships. Appropriately, the money goes to students within one of the seven programs within the arts department.

Since its inception in 2005, the program has been a huge success. “It is the buzz of Northern Virginia,” said William Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, “and that is the result of the quality of the student performer, and we are so incredibly thankful and proud.” This year, Reeder feels confident that the fundraiser brought in over $100,000 in scholarship funding.

Combining a silent auction with a series of concerts and displays, Arts by George! aims to engage its patrons and show them firsthand how their contributions impact students. For the auction, the usual spread of golf outings and fancy dinners were up for grabs, but there was also plenty of art to be had. Works created by Mason students and faculty were just some of the over 90 auction items available.

From paintings and dance to video game design, each program was able to show off. For the students, it was a chance to meet those who were helping their education in a very real way. “It’s really great to see students interact on such a personal level with people who contribute so highly to our educations,” said senior music major Paul Cassens, who performed at the event.

The crowd was energetic and chatty, circling the three floors of the CFA to investigate the different shows. Patrons crowded around the doors of the dance studio to catch bits of their performances and stood around computer screens to see what computer games students had been working on.

Mason President Alan Merten was in attendance, mingling with the crowd. But he wasn’t the only celebrity — former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey was also in attendance. As one of the silent auction items, Harvey donated his time to play golf with the winner. That evening Harvey saw as many student presentations as he could.

“I never thought I’d see opera and enjoy it,” he joked. “I’m thoroughly impressed.”

But one of the biggest draws was Tony Award-winning artist Brian Stokes Mitchell. The man whom The New York Times dubbed “The Last Leading Man” performed with the American Festival Pops Orchestra.

The event was the orchestra’s first performance. To commemorate the event, Mason graduate student Vincent Oppido composed an original medley of Mitchell’s work for the overture.

“It was pretty great,” said Oppido. “He’s a world-class musician and human being, as well as a Tony Award-winner. You don’t get those kinds of opportunities very often.”

Onstage, it was little surprise that Mitchell was at ease, joking with the crowd. He shared stories from his career with the crowd of nearly 2,000 and gave his thoughts on fatherhood. His songs were as versatile as his booming soprano, singing Gershwin tunes with the same energy as “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” made famous by none other than Kermit the Frog.

In the end, the evening was about the students. “We are so used to successful performances here, that not having a success is practically unheard of,” said Reeder. “The Mason student is among the very, very best anywhere. And we’d better get used to it.”