UNC has received the largest single gift by a living individual for the performing arts.

A crowd gathered at the Center for Dramatic Arts on Monday morning as the university announced a $12 million gift for PlayMakers Repertory Company and the department of dramatic art at UNC.

Chancellor Carol Folt said she was proud of the history of the department and the work of PlayMakers, adding that this gift would open up new opportunities moving forward.

“It’s going to increase performing arts programming,” Folt said. “It will expand educational opportunities for our students, and it will enhance the performance and the outreach that has offerings for the entire community.

“Offstage, there is also a very profound impact. And it’s really a Carolina culture changing aspect of this gift.”

Folt said this gift would add to the Arts Everywhere initiative that she recently started on the Chapel Hill campus.

“And that is a belief in a set of initiatives that seeks to take arts as a strength across the university,” Folt said, “to unleash in every way possible creativity to opening minds on and off campus.”

Monday’s gift was from Joan H. Gillings, who is also chair of the PlayMakers Repertory Company advisory council. Gillings told a story at Monday’s ceremony about meeting a student who enrolled in the department of dramatic art at UNC after growing up in Africa.

“It was amazing to me that these kids heard about UNC, PlayMakers and the dramatic arts department and they had to come here,” Gillings said. “And they came. And they succeeded. And they’re going on and on.

“I couldn’t get over it.”

In honor of the gift, UNC is renaming the center the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art. Gillings past philanthropy includes the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Carolina Performing Arts and UNC Children’s Hospital.

Photo via Blake Hodge