A transformative gift from Cal State LA alumna Mary Levin Cutler will establish the Mary Levin School of the Arts, the first named school in the university’s College of Arts and Letters.  

“I thank you for this tremendous honor,” Cutler said Tuesday at a meeting of the California State University Board of Trustees. “I am touched, I am honored. If my name means success for this school, I will be very, very happy.” 

The $10 million gift to establish the Mary Levin School of the Arts brings Cutler’s total contributions to Cal State LA to $14 million, more than any single donor in the history of the university. Cutler’s generous gift helped propel the university’s first capital fundraising campaign to more than $100 million.  

“Her philanthropic devotion to arts education will transform the lives of generations of students—it already has,” Cal State LA President William A. Covino said at the March 22 meeting. “Mary, thank you for your deep and lasting commitment to Cal State LA. We are thrilled by the opportunity to develop the Mary Levin School of the Arts in your honor.” 

Within the College of Arts and Letters, the Mary Levin School of the Arts will house the departments of Art; Music; Television, Film, and Media Studies; and Theatre and Dance, as well as the Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery. 

“Mary Levin’s tremendous generosity and dedication to our College of Arts and Letters and to our university will undoubtedly elevate the stature and visibility of our arts programs and will further transform the lives of our students and their future success by enhancing the quality of their education, the caliber of their skills, and their competitiveness in the entertainment and other industries,” said Lena Chao, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “We are truly grateful that Mary has shared this incredible gift to make our Cal State LA students’ dreams a reality.” 

Cutler was the first in her family to graduate from college.  She received a bachelor’s degree in music in 1955 from Cal State LA, then known as Los Angeles State College, and earned a master’s degree in music from USC.  

A violinist, singer and ethnomusicologist, Cutler is a passionate advocate for arts and music education and a long supporter of Cal State LA and its College of Arts and Letters.  

In addition to establishing named endowments, Cutler donated 166 instruments from around the world to the college. The collection includes percussion, string and wind instruments, along with several non-categorized instruments, numerous music LP records, tapes, books, sheet music and memorabilia. 

The CSU Board of Trustees approved the naming of the school during the meeting. Cutler received a resolution from the CSU and was thanked by Covino and CSU leaders.  

In her heartfelt remarks, Cutler reflected on how far she had come and the power of education to change lives. She recounted growing up in poverty with parents who didn’t finish high school, but who believed in her dreams to attend a university. At the conclusion of her moving speech, Cutler received a standing ovation. 

“This is one of the most incredible moments of my life,” Cutler said, speaking through tears. “Years ago, when I registered to go to L.A. State, I had no idea—never dreamed—that a moment like this could come.”