By Katharine Webster
The Nancy L. Donahue Celebration of the Arts, the first arts celebration on campus in three years, featured student poets, actors and musicians – and a special gift from the Lowell philanthropist: $2 million to renovate Durgin Concert Hall.
Donahue, who cofounded the city’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre and has supported programs in the arts, humanities and ethics at the university and in the community for decades, said that she made the gift because she loves the arts.
“I support the arts because I’m not an artist, and I’m a little jealous,” she said, smiling. “I can’t dance, I can’t sing, I can’t paint – and I like to support those who can and who make the world a more beautiful place.
“Also, because the arts are a universal language, and they speak to everyone, no matter where or when, and that’s so important.”
Her gift will pay for a major renovation of the 1,200-seat concert hall on the first floor of Durgin Hall, which opened in 1976. The updates will include new seating, new sound and lighting equipment, and aesthetic and acoustical improvements. It will also pay for renovation of the building lobby, including creating greater “acoustical separation” so that sounds from the lobby don’t disturb audiences during performances, said university planner Adam Baacke.
The Nancy L. Donahue Celebration of the Arts, previously called the Chancellor’s Celebration of the Arts, was renamed this year by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney in recognition of Donahue’s many generous gifts to the university and her philanthropy and activism in Lowell’s arts community.
“Nancy’s kindness has touched nearly every corner of the UMass Lowell campus,” said Moloney. “We are grateful to her for her longstanding support, and we know, thanks to her, that the next generation of River Hawk artists and musicians will be able to learn and grow in an innovative and engaging space.”
Donahue, who is also involved with the New England Quilt Museum and the Whistler House Museum of Art, was the first director of the University of Lowell Foundation. She has provided funding to bring renowned artists to campus, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
She established the Nancy L. Donahue Endowed Professorship in the Arts in 2009, which gives a faculty member a $40,000 stipend to use on a project, and she provided a large gift to fund the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility in the Manning School of Business in 2016.
The celebration, hosted by the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, featured a reception in Coburn Hall in a room with a recently restored WPA-era mural. Videos by students in the digital media and animation programs played on screens, and artwork by students majoring in art and graphic design was displayed on the walls.
Five creative writing majors read their poetry, and four theatre arts students performed short scenes from “Alone, Together: A Festival of Monologues and Short Plays Written for Zoom” that they had previously performed online in collaboration with students at Haverhill High School, directed by Melissa Allen ’15.
The celebration then moved to Durgin Concert Hall, where large and small student ensembles performed a wide variety of works, including a choral setting of English Assoc. Prof. Maggie Dietz’s poem “Love Song,” composed by Music Visiting Lecturer Christopher Lee. The piece was performed by the UML Chamber Singers and the University Choir.
In between musical performances, the chancellor presented $500 awards to five students who had been chosen by faculty, one from each creative arts major or concentration. They included pianist Dominique Haughton, a math professor at Bentley College who is on the verge of completing her music degree; Ariana Bellan, who won the award for a student in the Art & Design Department; and Daniel Cremin, who won for the new major in digital media.
Blake Hammond, a junior English major from Plaistow, New Hampshire, said before the celebration that he was surprised to learn that he had won the award for creative writing.
“It’s very humbling,” said Hammond, who served this year as fiction editor for the university’s literary magazine, The Offering. “It was unexpected, and I’m excited.”
Cristian Ramos Delgado, a senior from Methuen, Massachusetts, won the award for theatre arts. Ramos Delgado, who performed a monologue titled “The Art of Coping” from “Alone, Together” earlier in the evening, is also a music education major, and he sang a duet from the musical “Anastasia” in the second half of the program, partnering with Emily Ovesen and accompanied by Haughton.
Ramos Delgado said he was excited to win the award – and even happier to be performing in front of a live audience that included his parents, after two years of mostly online performances.
“COVID was a very harsh hit to the theater department and the theater community as a whole,” he said.
Moloney also presented Donahue with a Champion of the Arts Award, and fine arts major Brooke Gibbas gave Donahue one of her paintings, which was chosen for the honor by art faculty. The painting, “My Roommate Jane from Memory,” is a semi-abstract work that recalls how the pandemic forced the university to shut down suddenly over spring break in 2020.
“I was never able to say goodbye to my roommates before the lockdown,” Gibbas explained.
Six of the eight Nancy L. Donahue Endowed Professors came to the celebration, including English Prof. Andre Dubus III, an award-winning and best-selling author; Prof. Emeritus Arno Minkkinen, a renowned photographer; Music Prof. Gena Greher, education director for the UMass Lowell String Project; Associate Dean and English Prof. Sue Kim, who cofounded the Southeast Asian Digital Archive; and English Prof. Michael Millner, who used his grant to help fund the recent Jack Kerouac exhibit at Lowell National Historical Park and work on the Kerouac collection at the university’s Center for Lowell History. Philosophy professor, department chair and best-selling author John Kaag is the incoming Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor.
Music Prof. Alan Williams, who is on sabbatical, was unable to attend, as was Music Prof. Emerita Kay Roberts, founder of the String Project.