The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts Theater Department (VCUarts Theatre) has received a $5 million gift that will create three endowment funds to promote education and social awareness. The funds will be used to examine social justice through the lens of theater and will be used to cultivate and support an equitable and inclusive culture for all students, faculty and staff.
“It’s important to create art that informs us and challenges our point of view,” said Bonnie McCoy, Chair of the Theater Department. “There are many contemporary topics on which we can use theater as a tool to examine issues related to social justice.”
The donor, James HT McConnell Jr. of Charlottesville, Va., was a supporter of public education and the upbringing of children for most of his adult life. For nearly two decades he supported the National Jewish Theater Foundation. Her love of acting dates back even further to high school. At boarding school before he was old enough to drive, McConnell operated carbon arc lamps for school plays. In college, he expanded his knowledge from simple lighting to sound and stage craft construction and did technical work in a dinner theater.
“Social justice theater is about engaging the audience,” McConnell said. “The goal is very appropriate today. VCU is the best school in the Commonwealth for this purpose.
“The drama department is a great way to reach a lot of people with a lot of messages,” McConnell said. “There is no right or wrong interpretation of the performance that we have just seen. It is that each audience member can come out with a different interpretation. The performance can still be very successful. That is a very rare type of educational experience where different people come out of the same exhibit with different feelings.It’s a nice teaching tool not to limit the response or outcome.
Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean of the School of Arts, said: “These funds will continue to support rigorous work and expand our interests in the Department of Theater and Social Justice. We are delighted and honored to receive this gift to the School of Arts.
Of the funds, $1.5 million will be used to establish the James HT McConnell Jr. Theater Fellowship in Social Justice, which will support graduate students with a focus on advocating for social justice through theater. The remaining funds will establish the James HT McConnell Jr. Theater Chair in Social Justice and the James HT McConnell Jr. Theater Faculty Fund in Social Justice, which will support a chair and faculty whose work, curriculum and community orientation demonstrate a commitment to social justice. Justice.
“It’s important to have graduate students in the field who are able to get out there and use theater as a medium of education,” McConnell said. “Whether it’s just light performance or something more serious.”
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