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$20 million gift from David Sainsbury to refurbish auditorium
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$20 million gift from David Sainsbury to refurbish auditorium

Cambridge’s biggest professional theatre, the Cambridge Arts Theatre (CAT) has received a $20 million donation from Cambridge University’s Chancellor.

The donation was received from Lord David and Dame Susie Sainsbury via the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Lord Sainsbury has been the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge since 2011.

The theatre is planning to use the money to renovate the entire auditorium, with long term plans to incorporate an additional studio.

CAT claims that this “generous gift” will provide the theatre with “greater scope for creating new in-house work and ensure that it can continue to attract the very best touring productions to Cambridge”.

The current auditorium, which seats 666 people, will be completely renovated in a redesign by architect Ian Chalk.

It is hoped that this renovation will facilitate greater income for the theatre, allowing a 200-seat studio to be added to the building when funds become available.

Lord Sainsbury described how “The Cambridge Arts Theatre sits at the very heart of Cambridge’s rich cultural heritage,” going on to say that “the careers of many of our finest actors and directors of both stage and screen have started at the [CAT]”.

He continued, citing that Ian McKellen had made his professional acting debut on the CAT’s stage in 1959. When McKellen returned for his one-man touring production in 2019, he alerted the Gatsby Foundation to the theatre’s need for a mass refurbishment project.

Lord Sainsbury is a significant donor to the University of Cambridge, and in 2011 was elected to take over from the Duke of Edinburgh as Chancellor of the University.

The CAT hopes to improve their facilities accordingly. They claim money will be devoted to “upgraded audience facilities, improved technical services, sight lines and acoustic performance”.

The CEO of the theatre, Dave Murphy, posited that “the theatre is now at the dawn of a new era”. He claims to be “very proud” of the part he played in securing this donation, and in formulating the plans for refurbishment.

The Cambridge student who produced the 2024 Marlowe Arts Show at the CAT called the theatre “a fantastic resource for both town and gown”. He went on to praise the theatre’s capacity to facilitate “access to professional theatre on our doorstep”, especially for students “not from the South”. “It’s great to know this’ll be all the more enhanced by the recent grant,” he concluded.

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation was founded by Lord Sainsbury in 1967 and has since seen over £1 billion donated to various charitable causes. The Foundation previously donated £113 million to the renovation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, which was completed in 2011.

Lord Sainbury takes interest in a plethora of other causes and endeavors.

He previously made the largest recorded donation to any political party, with an £8 million donation to the Liberal Democrats.

He also continues to hold just under 5% of shares in the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

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