On Thursday afternoon, Harvard University announced that it received a $100 million gift to "envision a future home" for the American Repertory Theater in Allston. The gift is the beginning of the university's efforts to raise money for a research and performance center in the neighborhood.
In a statement, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote that this new 21st-century research and performance center will be “a magnet for artists and audiences,” and noted that Allston will soon “be home to one of the nation’s great incubators of creativity.”
The donation was made by alumnus David E. Goel, co-founder and managing general partner of Waltham-based Matrix Capital Management Company LP, and his wife, Stacey.
Harvard's presence in Allston has been expanding in recent years. The university's business school is already situated just over the river from the main Cambridge campus. The ArtLab, a hub for arts innovation, was completed earlier this year on Harvard Street. And the engineering school is expected to open there in 2020.
“There is something almost metaphorically perfect about the architectural license to build a center for the arts at the nucleus of Harvard’s expanding campus,” said David Goel in the press release from the university, “a physical representation of the idea that each set of academic disciplines is strengthened by proximity, dialogue, and contribution to the same tapestry of human understanding.”
The couple says they wanted the support the idea of a theater space that could be versatile, connecting the community in Cambridge and Allston through “music, dance, theater, debate, lectures, conferences, and dialogue in any format.”
The A.R.T. has been the professional theater on Harvard's campus, situated in the Loeb Drama Center, since its founding in 1980. In the announcement, Harvard officials said the university is continuing "to assess its design, fundraising, and planning needs in the coming months, and the A.R.T. will continue to produce work at the Loeb for several years while plans develop.”
The A.R.T.'s artistic director Diane Paulus released a statement of support for this move, saying the vision for the new research and performance center will reflect the theater's "core commitments to artistic excellence excellence, rigorous pedagogy, civic leadership, global engagement, inquiry, and inclusion.”
“We are excited by the transformative possibilities that come with the Goels’ astoundingly generous gift," she said in a statement. "It will allow us to envision a sustainably designed center that encourages creative risk-taking in open, democratic spaces that will feel welcoming and porous to the city.”
The A.R.T. has received numerous Tony Awards, including one for best new play ("All The Way" in 2014), and several for best revival of a musical ("Pippin" in 2013 and "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" in 2012). Under Paulus' leadership, Harvard's resident theater has established itself as an incubator for Broadway shows, including "Waitress," "Finding Neverland," and, soon, "Jagged Little Pill."
Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said she feels this move is a good opportunity for the A.R.T. and for Harvard Square.
“We know for a fact that the A.R.T., particularly under the leadership of Diane Paulus, has done extraordinarily well and it's been transformative,” Jillson said. “We also know that many of the performances are sold out. The space just not big enough. So that's that's the reality."
Jillson noted frequent calls from the theater asking for help to find rehearsal space.
"So this is not unexpected," she said. "And I think that you know the time has come for them to expand.”
In the statement, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he is appreciative of opportunities to develop the city with Harvard University.
“David and Stacey Goel’s generous gift presents Boston’s artists of all ages an opportunity to collaborate and learn alongside world-renowned talent in their own neighborhood,” said Walsh.