Plans for a new performing arts center open up long-awaited possibilities for the arts at U.Va. – The Daily Rider


The university announced on September 24 that Tessa Ader, an honorary member of the Fralin Art Museum’s advisory board, had donated $ 50 million to the university to fund the construction of a new performing arts center. The center, which will be built along the Emmet-Ivy Corridor, hopes to provide a unique space to showcase all the arts in the field.

“The concept is a 1,100-seat performing arts hall, a 150-seat recital hall, and then an experimental art space,” said Jody Kielbasa, vice-president of arts. “And then an additional studio space which could house dance and music programs and rehearsals for the theater, as well [as] any kind of performance that could accommodate.

Over time, Kielbasa said he hoped all of the University’s museums could be relocated to the center, which could provide additional support for the arts.

The prospect of such a center offers incredible new potential for the arts departments and student groups at the University, which have been scattered around the grounds and given varying attention since their inception.

The idea is slow in coming – according to Kielbasa, there have been conversations around a new performing arts center for over 30 years.

Assoc. Arts Administration Professor George Sampson was first hired by the University in 1994 to be the Director of Arts Development, which brought him responsibility for fundraising for the arts. In a recent interview with The Cavalier Daily, Sampson explained that prior to his arrival, “the senior management of the University made a conscious decision on how they were going to market this university.”

“They said athletics, sports is what we want,” Sampson said. “From that day in the mid-1970s … until today, it’s been a pretty steady pace of building elements within our track and field franchise.”

1970s to late 1990s, annual donations to the Virginia Athletics Foundation grew up from about $ 750,000 to about $ 4.5 million, while the foundation’s endowment reached $ 12 million. At the end of 2020, the foundation’s annual giving has reached $ 18.8 million and its endowment has reached a value of nearly $ 174 million. The university’s arts endowment has not even been established until 2014, when that set an objective to reach a total value of $ 10 million.

While seeking money for the arts in the 1990s, Sampson said he encountered hesitation from people inside and outside the university. Richmond donors preferred to fund the arts at Richmond’s up-and-coming arts spaces, such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and were only willing to donate money to University athletics programs, as the Richmond area athletics was much less promising.

He found donors outside of Richmond also unwilling to donate to the University for other reasons, one being that donors did not want to donate to the University when it was not. enough effort in the arts. According to Sampson, donors felt the university was more focused on other departments, such as the athletics department and the history department. In his lackluster artistic donation-raising experiments at the time, Sampson came to a similar conclusion.

Sampson shared an anecdote of a donor from South Carolina who refused to donate to U.Va. Arts because he “wants[ed] to give to the winners.

According to Sampson, one donor chose “not to donate to the arts at the University of Virginia because ‘donate to the arts at U.Va. it’s like pounding sand in a rat hole.

While donors, and in some ways the University, were less than enthusiastic about the University’s artistic programming in the 1990s and 2000s, the Arts Department has been more successful in increasing funding and attention in recent years. years. Sampson believes the tone towards the arts at the University has finally changed, and Kielbasa is pleased with its overall success in raising funds for the arts, but still recognizes that there is room for improvement.

“I always hope there will be more [funding] because I am passionate about the arts, ”Kielbasa said. “I think the arts offer a remarkable opportunity to bring the student body together… But there has never been enough [funding]. And I would say, you know, the university definitely needs more funding, both for programming and we need more facilities as well, and the performing arts center provides an opportunity for that.

The new possibility of a performing arts center signals a remarkable change in the potential of university arts programming. Arts students and faculty alike are optimistic that this will forever remedy the lack of attention and funding that U.Va. Arts has coped for many years.

“I truly believe that this extraordinary donation of $ 50 million… [is] a hell of a start, ”Sampson said. “It is most likely the one that changes the landscape in a significant way.”

Lydia Newman, a third-year college student and member of First Year Players, hopes the performing arts center will focus more on the University’s priorities over the arts. In particular, she hopes it will remedy a long-standing struggle with space that student arts groups have faced.

“Freshman players typically perform in the student activities building,” Newman said. “With like Spectrum Theater, Shakespeare on the Lawn, Paul Robeson Players, all of these groups perform in the student activities building, which is [just] a warehouse without a stage. So I am very excited for this [this] means for all groups managed by students.

Faculty and students agree that the performing arts center will provide long-awaited opportunities for the arts at the University, but Ader’s $ 50 million donation alone is not enough to build it.

“It’s a major gift,” Kielbasa said. “As far as I know, this is the biggest gift to support the arts at the University of Virginia, so it’s amazing. And in my experience, usually support like this, you know, helps motivate additional support, and that’s definitely our hope.

Kielbasa is uncertain how long it will take to open the performing arts center, acknowledging that there is still a lot of fundraising needed to cover construction costs before any building can begin. However, he hopes this donation will generate enough enthusiasm and support to enable construction in the near future.

“I think this sends a very strong message now that the University is committed to supporting and developing the arts, and that there are opportunities for philanthropic support,” Kielbasa said. “These things take time, but I’m optimistic we’ll start moving at a pace to make all of this happen, and I really hope this inspires other donors to move forward and support the arts at University.” because we really have amazing programs and amazing students.


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