VCU’s theater department receives $5M donation
Charlottesville resident McConnell made gift
Virginia Commonwealth University has received a $5 million donation from Charlottesville resident James H.T. McConnell Jr. for the Department of Theatre in the School of Arts, the university announced Thursday.
The gift will create three endowed funds to promote education and social awareness and to examine social justice through the lens of theater, according to a news release from VCU.
“Social justice theatre is focused on getting the audience involved,” McConnell said in a statement. “The purpose is very appropriate today. VCU is the best school in the commonwealth for this purpose.”
McConnell is an investor and philanthropist who has been a prominent supporter of public education and children’s education for most of his adult life and has supported the National Jewish Theater Foundation, according to VCU. He has also been interested in theater much of his life, with involvement in school plays and in college working behind the scenes.
McConnell’s family, the duPonts, have deep roots in Virginia. His family had a land grant from the crown, according to Architectural Digest, which featured McConnell’s home in Orange County in 2007.
“These funds will continue to support rigorous work and expand our interests in the theatre department and social justice,” Carmenita Higginbotham, dean of the School of the Arts, said in a statement. “We are excited and honored to receive this gift to the School of the Arts.”
Of the funds, $1.5 million will be used to establish the James H.T. McConnell Jr. Theatre Fellowship in Social Justice. This fund will support graduate students with a focus on advocating for social justice through theater.
The remaining funds will establish two positions in McConnell’s name, the James H.T. McConnell Jr. Theatre Chair in Social Justice and the James H.T. McConnell Jr. Theatre Faculty Fund in Social Justice, which will support a chair and faculty whose work, teaching curriculum and community focus demonstrate a commitment to social justice.
“The theatre drama department is a great way to reach a lot of people with a lot of messages,” McConnell said in a statement. “There is no right or wrong interpretation of the performance one just saw. It is that each audience member can come out with a different interpretation. The performance can still be very successful. It is a very rare type of educational experience where different people come out from the same exposure with different feelings. It’s a nice teaching tool to not limit the response or the outcome.”