With a $100m gift, Harvard plans to expand arts campus in Allston
With a new $100 million donation, Harvard University said Thursday that it is embarking on plans to reshape and expand its arts campus, a sweeping effort that will include a performance and research center in Allston to serve as the home of the American Repertory Theater, one of the most prominent regional theaters in the country.
The new performance center, along with the recently completed ArtLab in Allston, will “anchor Harvard’s arts presence’’ in the fast-changing neighborhood, according to a university announcement of the donation.
David E. and Stacey L. Goel are the donors. David Goel, a 1993 Harvard alumnus, is cofounder and managing general partner of Matrix Capital Management Company, which is based in Waltham.
Their gift — among the largest Harvard has received — will “make it possible to reimagine the University’s arts campus” for the 21st century, the university stated in its announcement.
Moving to Boston will represent a dramatic shift for the Tony Award-winning ART, the resident theater at Harvard, which has presented productions at Cambridge’s Loeb Drama Center since the ART’s founding in 1980. The company will continue to present productions at the Loeb “for several years while plans develop,’’ according to the statement.
Details were not provided about the exact location or square footage envisioned for the performance center, and no name was announced, signaling that considerable fund-raising still lies ahead even after the huge donation. Indeed, the release said that Harvard “will continue to assess its design, fund-raising, and planning needs in the coming months.’’
Harvard is at work on a long-planned expansion of its Allston campus, with a large new science and engineering building under construction along Western Avenue and planning underway for a 36-acre research campus next door. Harvard’s ArtLab, an innovation space on North Harvard Street, was finished in January. Long term, real estate experts say, the area could become a rival to Kendall Square as a hub for new jobs and housing.
It would be the latest wave of change for the working-class neighborhood once known as Barry’s Corner, much of which was cleared by urban renewal schemes in the 1960s, and some of it quietly bought by Harvard in the 1990s. The university has accelerated development there in recent years and has eyed putting museums and other cultural institutions there for more than a decade.
Bringing the ART to Allston would establish the neighborhood — which has a long history as a place where local artists live — as even more of a destination.
Harvard president Lawrence Bacow predicted the gift will “inspire support for one of our most exciting projects to advance the arts at Harvard,’’ adding that the university hopes the new performance and research center will be “a magnet for artists and audiences, as well as students, faculty, and staff.’’
In a statement, Bacow said: “Allston will be home to one of the nation’s great incubators of creativity.’’
A new ART in Allston would likely need approval by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, though city officials said they haven’t yet seen specific plans. The agency launched a study last fall to improve traffic and transit in Allston-Brighton, which has emerged as a development hot spot in recent years.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whose administration has supported theater expansions including a new home for the Huntington Theatre Company in the Fenway and a planned performing arts center in the Seaport, said he is glad to hear of the plans to bring the ART across the Charles.
“I am grateful for the opportunities that have developed through the city’s partnership with Harvard University and look forward to seeing how the ART will be able to build on our relationship in Allston and beyond in new creative ways,” Walsh said in a statement.
In a statement, David Goel said he and his wife want to back “a versatile theater space that can be reshaped as appropriate to express and share the abundant ideas originated by the College, the American Repertory Theater, and Harvard’s community already at home in Allston — and connect them through music, dance, theater, debate, lectures, conferences, and dialogue in any format.’’
Goel called ART artistic director Diane Paulus a “generational talent’’ who has had “a revolutionary impact on Harvard and the broader culture.’’ Paulus, who is in London overseeing a production of “Waitress,’’ could not be reached for comment Thursday, but said in a statement that “transformative possibilities’’ are presented by the Goels’ “astoundingly generous gift,’’ adding: “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.”
Under Paulus’s leadership over the past decade, the ART has originated or presented a steady stream of productions with an eye on Broadway, prompting praise and criticism alike. The shows that have gone on to New York have included “Pippin’’ (for which Paulus won a 2013 Tony Award for best director), “All the Way,’’ “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,’’ “Waitress,’’ and “Finding Neverland.’’ “Jagged Little Pill,’’ which premiered at the ART last year, is also headed to Broadway. (Disclosure: Paulus directed an opera, “Crossing,’’ composed by the son of one of these reporters.)
“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, 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,” said David Goel.