Campus Prepares to Transform Art Spaces

Students at Choate are fortunate enough to be able to have an extraordinary building like the new St. John Hall Student Center. Yet, many still look to the future and ask, “What’s next?” Currently, Choate’s arts building, the Paul Mellon Arts Center, designed by a world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, serves as the hub of Choate’s Arts and the location for school meetings. The space is beautiful and has been vastly utilized since it was built in 1972. However, this year, Choate students will see construction begin on a new, more specialized auditorium.

Choate’s focus on the quality of student life stressed the need for two specific places to gather — a social and formal setting. Originally, the auditorium was part of the St. John Hall project, until Choate received a gift of ten million dollars from a donor, and questions arose: Can the school do more than it had so far planned? If the school renovates the PMAC, should it expand the function of the building to address all of its arts programs? These queries spurred a ten-million-dollar renovation for the interior of the current PMAC as well as an entirely new building.
The donors, Ted Little ’49 and his wife, Fran, decided to fund the project after watching their grandson, Kohl Weisman, who graduated in 2015, find a home in the school’s theater department. The design of the new auditorium will come from the same firm that designed the Kohler Environmental Center: Robert A. M. Stern Architects.

Currently, a shortage of seating in the PMAC requires third-formers to sit in Getz Auditorium during school meetings, where they watch a livestream of the event. The new auditorium, which is projected to contain more than 1,000 seats, is a clear solution to this problem.
With the renovation of the current PMAC and the new auditorium, each facet of the Arts Department will have a space designed to suit it. The stage in the auditorium will be suited for the music department, while the second phase of the project, the renovation of the PMAC, will allow a stage best suited for drama. “When combining lots and lots of different programs, you have to compromise to make it work for all of them,” said Head of School Dr. Alex Curtis. “It’s doable — we have been doing it for 40 years — but it’s obviously preferable to become more specialized.”

The new auditorium will benefit the dance department in particular. Currently, dancers rehearse in the WJAC, which emphasizes the athletic component of their activity but divorces them from the arts center. Director of the Arts Kalya Yannatos said, “The truth is if they are in the arts center area, they will have the opportunity to collaborate more with student musicians perhaps.”
The theater department will also enormously benefit from the renovation. Ms. Kate Doak, Director of the fall play at Choate, said that the arts programs are always challenged from the overlapping use of space because “so many kids are so involved in so many different things.” The auditorium in school meeting will allow for sets to go up earlier on stage to allow actors to perform with their complete set and props, and the Chase Bear can be a theater rather than a shared space with the orchestra.

The groundbreaking for the new auditorium will begin at the end of this year for the new , and the next phase, the theater renovation, will commence shortly thereafter in 2020. “The auditorium really is driven by the key concept of doing all that we can to make this community as strong as we can, to allow us to gather and share,” stated Dr. Curtis.

One Comment

  1. Michele Corey says:

    Another great project! Who is going to build the auditorium?

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