A New Home for the Arts at UVA: $50 Million Gift Sets Stage for Performing Arts Center

Arial View of the Rotunda and Lawn

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

The University of Virginia, Charlottesville and Central Virginia will soon have a significant new arts destination. UVA President Jim Ryan announced Friday at a Board of Visitors meeting a $50 million lead gift from Tessa Ader for the building of a performing arts center at the University. Mrs. Ader’s gift will transform the arts at UVA by providing a home for concerts, dance, theater and interdisciplinary art forms. The building’s location in the Emmet-Ivy corridor places it squarely within a highly visible location that is central to both the University and Charlottesville communities.

“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. It will also warmly invite the broader community to Grounds through performances by world-renowned artists and our talented 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.”

The performing arts center will spotlight a full array of artistic expression. While the design for the new center is slated to begin shortly, the University is planning for the facility to include a 1,100-plus-seat concert hall, a 150-seat recital hall – each with superior acoustical properties – as well as rehearsal studios and a highly adaptable experimental arts space. With focused practice spaces for music ensembles and performance groups, the performing arts center will provide much-needed room for the expansion of arts programming in the College of Arts & Sciences. By accommodating national and international touring artists, the performing arts center will provide both academic and other learning experiences for students, alumni and the community.

“This extraordinary gift from Tessa Ader will transform the landscape for the arts at UVA and serve as a bridge to the Charlottesville community,” said Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival. “It is also the beginning of what I hope will become a creative nexus at the Emmet-Ivy corridor as we look to expand our arts programming at UVA. The performing arts center will create an inviting entry for patrons of the arts to access the University. It will also play an important role in elevating the local arts ecosystem by connecting the surrounding community while elevating Charlottesville as a regional cultural center.”

Mrs. Ader is a passionate and devoted supporter of the arts at the University and in the Charlottesville community. She and her late husband, Richard, are honorary members of the advisory board for The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. In December 2020, Tessa Ader created the Richard M. and Tessa G. Ader Endowed Fund for Music Education at the Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia.

Tessa Ader headshot

Tessa Ader’s gift will transform the arts at UVA and enhance the region's cultural amenities. (Contributed photo)

“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. “As a longtime trustee of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Richard and his co-trustee Joe Erdman made transformative gifts to the University and Charlottesville in support of the arts. 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.”

Erdman, a 1956 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, said that, ranging from its museums to the Charlottesville Symphony, UVA provides a vital world-class arts experience to the University and greater Central Virginia communities, and that a new performing arts center will be a significant addition to the arts in Charlottesville.

“As a trustee of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, we funded the feasibility study for a performing arts center, and we could not be happier that this is now on its way to becoming a reality, thanks to Tessa Ader’s remarkable gift,” Erdman said. “I look forward to working with President Ryan, Provost Liz Magill and Vice Provost Kielbasa to explore the ways in which the arts programs can receive the support they need, in order to stand alongside the other pillars that make UVA’s one of the best educational experiences in America.”

The building’s future home within the new Emmet-Ivy corridor – at the east end of the parcel along Emmet Street – will join other facilities already being planned there, including the School of Data Science and the Karsh Institute of Democracy. While additional private support will be needed, Mrs. Ader’s lead gift for the performing arts center not only provides the impetus for a much-needed capital project dedicated to the arts, it makes a compelling case for the arts to remain in the limelight as a frontline priority for the University for many years to come.

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