Amherst College donates $200K for town projects

  • Amherst College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2022

AMHERST — A new performing arts venue in downtown Amherst and the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library are both benefiting from donations, totaling $200,000, made by Amherst College.

The college announced Wednesday that, in honor of its two-century history and its relationship with the town, the main branch library on Amity Street and The Drake, the new arts and cultural hub located nearby on North Pleasant Street, will split the gift equally.

“As we mark the college’s bicentennial, our ties to the town remain strong,” college President Biddy Martin said in a statement, observing that the relationship dates to 1818 when a charity fund was created by Amherst residents to give free instruction to “indigent young men of promising talents and hopeful piety.”

“We are especially pleased to be providing support for two projects that will benefit the town, and are also aligned with our mission,” Martin said.

The gift came about in part, Martin said, because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the larger community from being part of the college’s bicentennial festivities.

“Given what a significant role the town has played in making Amherst the college it is today, we are taking this opportunity to invest in the educational, artistic and sustainable future of our community,” Martin said.

For the library, the $100,000 donation goes to the Friends of the Jones Library to support the $36.3 million restoration, renovation and expansion of the building that opened in 1928 and was last expanded in the early 1990s.

The project will add 15,000 square feet of space, repair building systems, create a dedicated teen room and more area for the English as a Second Language program, and better protect special collections. When complete in the coming years, the Jones Library will be a net zero building in terms of its energy use.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said in a statement that she appreciates the college’s generosity.

“Amherst College has been important to the Jones Library from the library’s inception, recognizing both its centrality in the life of the town, of which the college is an integral part, and the many ideals they share,” Sharry said.

The Drake, using an upper-level space previously occupied by the High Horse restaurant, will be the town’s first live performance and music venue specifically designed for that purpose.

It is being overseen by the Downtown Amherst Foundation.

Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said the college’s donation is vital for enhancing the business climate in Amherst center.

“We see these two ventures as the most remarkable economic development opportunities, community and diversity builders, and destination creators for the Amherst area,” Gould said.

As part of The Drake’s mission, there will be collaboration with the college’s music department.

Darryl Harper, associate professor of music at the college and its director for the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, said some of this will include students presenting their works off campus.

The Drake is scheduled to open later this winter.