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$50 million gift to prompt construction of UVa performing arts center

A $50 million gift from a Charlottesville fine arts supporter will fund a new performing arts center at the University of Virginia, UVa President Jim Ryan announced at the school’s Board of Visitors meeting on Friday.

The center is to be built in the Emmet Street-Ivy Road corridor, which is being redesigned and redeveloped by the university. The center will provide space for concerts, dance, theater and other performances.

“From my perspective it’s a joyous, momentous and exciting day for the arts at the university and in Charlottesville,” said Jody Kielbasa, UVa’s vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival. “This is an extraordinary gift. It is, to my knowledge, the largest gift by far to the arts at the University of Virginia.”

Tessa Ader, who with her late husband Richard has long supported local arts, made the gift. She is an honorary member of the advisory board for UVa’s Fralin Museum of Art and in 2020 created the Richard M. and Tessa G. Ader Endowed Fund for Music Education at the Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia.

She also provided funding for the Charlottesville Opera’s artist-in-residence program and the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival.

“I am excited and humbled by Tessa’s decision to help us provide a new home for the arts at UVa,” Ryan said. “Her gift, which clearly stems from a love for all forms of creativity, will provide the UVa community with new opportunities for participation in the arts.”

“My late husband, Richard, and I long felt that a state-of-the-art performing arts center was needed by the University of Virginia,” Mrs. Ader said in a statement. “I believe this new facility will be a wonderful asset to our community and am hopeful my gift will encourage others to come forward as well to make it a reality.”

The center is envisioned as performance venue that could attract “world-renowned artists” as well as feature talented UVa students.

“The performing arts center will be a place that celebrates the arts as fundamental to the human condition, a university education and a democratic society,” Ryan said.

The building will join the UVa School of Data Science and the Karsh Institute of Democracy in the Emmet-Ivy redevelopment.

The center is now under design, but the university’s current plan is to feature a 1,100-plus-seat concert hall, a 150-seat recital hall, rehearsal studios and an adaptable experimental arts space that could host a variety of performances and exhibitions.

Besides its planned use as a venue for national and international touring artists, the center would provide practice space for music ensembles and performance groups and expand arts programming in the UVa College of Arts & Sciences, officials said.

Kielbasa said the new performing arts center is expected to handle events about 300 days a year and could house as many as 350 days of events.

“We did do a study about three years ago – and the community has only continued to grow in population since then – that showed with UVa alone, we could present in that center some 243 nights per year,” he said. “If you add in a lively art series with international acts and dance and speakers and partnerships with local organizations, I feel confident that we will be able to fill this.”

The center would join existing venues. The Paramount Theater, a performance space on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, is a redesigned and remodeled movie theater from the 1930s with a 1,000-seat capacity. Cabell Hall, a performance center at the end of the Lawn at UVa, has a capacity of 851.

Cabell Hall currently hosts performances about 200 days a year. Kielbasa said he expects most of those performances to move to the new arts center.

He said theaters in the UVa drama department will continue to be used by dance and drama departments at the university and that the Paramount Theater will continue to be a viable venue, even with the addition of the arts center.

“The Paramount will continue to be a theater for the entire community, but there are certain types of performance that they cannot support there. This center will add to the cultural landscape in Charlottesville and be complementary to those theaters,” he said.

Kielbasa said Cabell Hall is not designed as a performing arts center that can support a wide variety of presentations, especially by contemporary standards.

“It’s not a performing arts center. [The new center] would be totally different in terms of design and capacity but also different in acoustic design, audience presentation and stage capacity,” he said.

Kielbasa said the new center will support the local economy through its schedule.

“This will be an economic catalyst for the region. You will have people traveling to the area, staying overnight in hotels, eating dinner before they watch performances and all of that is going to help the community,” he said. “I have been dreaming of a performing arts center for 10 years. I feel there is a real critical need for one in our community, in Central Virginia.”

Ader’s $50 million gift joins another nearly $50 million in gifts given to the school since the board’s last meeting in June. Total fundraising for UVa and its foundations totaled $502,016,934 in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

During the two-day Board of Visitor’s meeting, the board also approved seeking about $63 million from the state to help pay for a variety of programs during the state’s next two-year budget cycle.

The requests were developed to cover costs from UVa’s six-year plan and from costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Included in the request are $7 million over two years to make permanent the state’s one-time funding for ongoing, unavoidable cost increases and $59,000 over two years to help cover minimum wage increases for work study students.

The school is also seeking state support to cover $21.1 million of pandemic-related costs not covered by federal relief funding. The costs include COVID testing, quarantine and isolations space for students plus added technology, Plexiglas, providing masks and hand sanitizer stations.

Also included in the request are $3.8 million for health insurance premiums; $1.2 million for operation and maintenance of new facilities; $2.1 million to cover utility costs; and $22 million for cancer research funding. All of the costs would be over two years.

The school is also seeking $5.5 million in state support for a public service loan forgiveness pilot program. The program is designed to encourage UVa graduates to stay in Virginia and work after graduation, promote public service and entrepreneurship and make the school more affordable and attractive to a wider group of students.


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