PlayMakers Repertory Company’s of “My Fair Lady.” A $12 million gift will be evenly split between PlayMakers and the UNC Department of Dramatic Art over three installments. It’s the largest single gift to performing arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Ken A. Huth
PlayMakers Repertory Company’s of “My Fair Lady.” A $12 million gift will be evenly split between PlayMakers and the UNC Department of Dramatic Art over three installments. It’s the largest single gift to performing arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Ken A. Huth

Education

With $12M gift, the largest performing arts donation in UNC history, the dramatic arts can grow

By David Menconi

dmenconi@newsobserver.com

September 11, 2017 08:00 AM

CHAPEL HILL

It’s the biggest single donation for the performing arts in UNC’s history: a $12 million endowment to the university’s PlayMakers Repertory Company and Department of Dramatic Art.

Monday, the university will announce the gift from Chapel Hill philanthropist Joan H. Gillings. The money will be evenly split between PlayMakers, which has an annual budget of $3 million, and the department.

The Center for Dramatic Art, which houses both the theater and the department, now will be known as the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art.

“The reason I gave my gift wasn’t so much the naming rights,” Gillings said. “It’s that I absolutely love and care about the PlayMakers kids. They’re the future. I’m happy to do it.”

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Chapel Hill philanthropist Joan Gillings is giving $12 million to UNC’s PlayMakers Repertory Company and Department of Dramatic Art. It’s the biggest single arts donation in UNC’s history. The Center for Dramatic Art, which houses both the theater and the department, now will be known as the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art.
PlayMakers Repertory Company

This $12 million gift surpasses the $8 million given by the Kenan Trust to UNC’s Kenan Music Building and music scholarship program in 2006.

Gillings is chair of the PlayMakers Advisory Council. She and her former husband, Quintiles founder Dennis Gillings, are longtime supporters of various causes and institutions at UNC, including the university’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have this incredible blessing,” said Vivienne Benesch, PlayMakers producing artistic director. “Does it fix all our problems? It does not. But it allows us to start planning growth for the next 40 years.”

The money will be paid in three installments, starting with $4 million this academic year. Another $4 million will come in five years, with the last third eventually due as a planned gift from Gillings’ estate.

“We won’t see the entire $12 million in one fell swoop,” said Adam Versenyi, chair of the Department of Dramatic Art. “There are some long-standing needs it will go toward fulfilling, and it puts in place funding to launch new programs.”

Those new programs will be in the area of increasing community outreach and diversity, introducing new works and recruiting and supporting additional graduate students in the dramatic art department. Outreach efforts include the Mobile Shakespeare and PlayMakers’ K-12 education programs, which often rely on year-to-year funding.

“All of those things, we’re doing already,” Benesch said. “In several cases, it’s year-to-year on a grant-by-grant basis. This gift allows us to build sustainable programs. So we can build a teaching-artist program that’s not just reliant on Shakespeare and an NEA grant. It can be for newer works as well.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said the donation is the biggest donation to the arts in UNC history. It’s the biggest donation to the performing arts.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi