Decades after the project was initially proposed, the initiative to create a statue of Matthew Gaines on campus has gained renewed support among Aggies.
A former slave turned statesman, Gaines spent much of his life in the Brazos Valley, serving as Washington County’s first African-American state senator. During his time in the 12th Texas Legislature, he was a vocal supporter of Senate Bill 276, which allowed the state to establish the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas under the Morrill Land Grant Act.
The Student Senate passed the Matthew Gaines Statue Commemoration Bill on Nov. 1, 2018, beginning the four-year process of memorializing the former Texas Senator on campus. Since then, the Matthew Gaines Initiative has started raising funds to meet its $350,000 goal by May of 2020.
Erica Pauls, President of the Matthew Gaines Initiative and political science junior, said they have created marketing, programming, outreach, fundraising and art commemoration committees to address each facet of the statue’s creation. The committees are focused on raising awareness of the project through advertising on campus and reaching out to student organizations.
“We’re working toward a significant growth of our platform,” Pauls said. “We’re going to have yard signs and our logo on TV screens around the campus. We’re talking to Building Administration, the MSC, the Rec, Zachry, just to get our logo and information out there.”
Pauls said they’ve already begun reaching out to student groups by holding a student outreach dinner at the home of Vice President of Student Affairs Daniel Pugh with 50 student leaders in attendance.
“In regards to outreach, we’re working toward speaking to orgs and tabling,” Pauls said. “A lot of [student leaders] have reached out to us that they want us to present at their organization meetings and their events, so we’re starting to do that right now.”
The art commemoration committee is about to begin its search for an artist to create the bronze statue. Although the project is in its early stages, some have come forward to offer their skills, Pauls said.
“We already have a few sculptors that have approached us that are interested in designing the statue,” Pauls said. “So we’ll be reaching out to them and others that we have found of interest.”
Matt Jennings, senior director of development at the Texas A&M Foundation and Class of 1995, advises the committee on the complexities of fundraising. The Texas A&M Foundation typically works with individual donors, so working with a student committee has its own unique challenges.
According to Jennings, former and current students have officially committed over $50,000 towards the cause. Although the funding is integral, student support and awareness allows the project to garner a majority of its donors.
“I know that’s going to be an important part of [fundraising],” Jennings said. “ It’s very important that externally, the former students can see that the student body is committed to this project and that the student body feels that this as an important thing to do.”
After decades of attempts to get support for the Gaines Statue, the student support is what has given the project endurance.
“We’re excited about the message it’s going to send,” Jennings said. “The hard part is getting folks to separate themselves from their money. They want to see momentum. That’s why I think the student involvement is so critical because that’s going to be the message we send to other people who might be skeptical.”
Student Body President Mikey Jaillet said the committee is focused on raising awareness among students of Gaines’ life and impact as it relates to A&M.
“There has been a lot of great things done in terms of who Matthew Gaines was, from [New Student Conferences] to Fish Camp to a student leader round-table,” Jaillet said. “The level of student leaders as well as students in general that are starting to learn more about Matthew Gaines, who he was as a person and the diversity initiatives at Texas A&M, is getting deeper and spreading wider.”