The university is using a $30 million pledge from Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. Lenfest, for whom the building will be named, to fund the facility.
One of the goals of the Lenfest Arts Center, to be located on a plaza between Broadway and 12th Avenue, will be to connect with Harlem’s vibrant arts and cultural scene. It is the university’s largest ever gift associated with the arts.
The structure will be designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and will contain performance space and presentation space for readings and seminars, and a state-of-the-art film screening room. It will also serve as a facility for Columbia’s School of the Arts, said Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.
The building will be located west of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, which will house the University’s Mind Brain Behavior neuroscience facility.
“As Columbia develops a new campus, it is great to think that the arts will play a central role, and that a beautiful new building by Renzo Piano will welcome audiences across New York City, and make new partnerships possible,” Lenfest said in a statement.
Lenfest announced the gift Thursday night when he was honored at Columbia College’s Alexander Hamilton Dinner.
“This latest gift not only reflects the extraordinary leadership in the arts that he and Marguerite have long demonstrated in their home city of Philadelphia, it ensures that our thriving School of the Arts will finally have a facility that matches its astonishing creativity and the university will have a vital new space for engagement in the robust cultural life of Harlem,” Bollinger said in a statement.
It is not Lenfest’s first gift to the university. A 1958 graduate of Columbia University’s Law School, Lenfest and his wife Marguerite have pledged over $100 million to endow professorships, build a residence hall for the law school and a professorship for the Earth Institute.
The most recent $30 million pledge places the Lenfests among Columbia’s most generous donors. The Lenfests have pledged to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
News of the arts center was welcomed in Harlem.
Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said the center will fill a gaping hole for the arts on the west side of Harlem.
“One of our goals is to use culture as an economic driver across 125th Street but right now the west side is disconnected. You have the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Apollo Theater but nothing to lead people to continue walking through the district,” said Askins. “This will be a destination.”