The wait is over.

Three years after breaking ground on our new building at 13 Front Street and 10 months after welcoming the first visitors to our galleries, we are thrilled to announce the opening month of programming at the McDonnell Theater.

The McDonnell Theater will come to life in March starting with a performance by Supaman, an innovative hip-hop artist and fancy dancer. The March 3 concert kicks off a year filled with music, film, dance, artist talks, theatre, and more events that channel the power of art to unsettle, engage, bridge divides, and spark moments of arresting beauty.

Following Supaman, all are invited to join us for Contenders, a film series featuring four superb foreign films, three of which garnered Oscar nominations. Soon after the film festival, there will be a series of special events and previews leading up to the world premiere of Embarqued: Stories of Soil by intercontinental dance-theatre troupe Company SBB // Stefanie Batten Bland, as well as performances by Arthur Vint and his high-octane ensemble and Heidi Breyer, a hometown composer. In addition, Silky Shoemaker, whose Artist Ancestors will help enforce social distancing in the theater during its first months, joins us for an artist talk among the iconic artists.

“This moment is years in the making and represents the vision and work of so many people who have lent their strengths to the belief that the creative impulse is fundamental to life,” said Jill Kearney, ArtYard’s founder and Executive Director. “With each new idea, limitation, and twist we’ve encountered over these last three years, the McDonnell Theater exceeds what we once thought possible, providing the ultimate theatrical experience for artists, performers, and community members right here in Frenchtown. All of us at ArtYard are excited to share it.”

Named after Stephen McDonnell, ArtYard board member, Applegate Farms founder, and Kearney’s husband, the 162-seat theater McDonnell Theater has state-of-the-art projection, lighting, and surround sound as well as upcycled seating, curtains, and a chandelier made from water bottles by artist Willie Cole. Constructed during the Covid-19 pandemic, the building’s ventilation system was enhanced to improve air quality.

During the first month of programming, random seats in the audience will be occupied by ArtYard’s Artist Ancestors. Created by Shoemaker, Artist Ancestors are life-size plywood portraits of iconic cultural figures whose lives and work span across the arts and embody ArtYard’s ethos. They include American fiber sculptor Judith Scott, Harlem Renaissance artist Beauford Delaney, quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins, and composer Julius Eastman.

“During the downward swing of the pandemic, we are delighted to have these special guests help enforce a bit of social distancing,” Kearney said.

All visitors to ArtYard are required to wear masks and show valid identification and proof that they are vaccinated against Covid-19.

ArtYard is an incubator for creative expression and a catalyst for collaborations that reveal the transformational power of art. As an interdisciplinary alternative contemporary art center comprised of exhibition space, theater, and residency program, ArtYard is dedicated to presenting transformative artwork, fostering unexpected collaborations, and incubating original new work.

Over the last five years, ArtYard has hosted more than 250 events and partnered with dozens of artists and organizations. Three major exhibitions per year anchor offerings in theatre, poetry, dance, music, and film, as well as communal celebrations such as the Hatch, a biennial parade of birds that will return to Frenchtown this June.

“Among the inspirations for ArtYard are Casas de la Cultura are Casas de la Cultura, centers for arts and culture throughout Latin America and Europe which bring unlikely people together,” said Elsa Mora, ArtYard’s Creative Director, curator, and a renowned artist. “With the addition of the McDonnell Theater to complement the energy already being generated by the exhibitions in the gallery, we look forward to exploring what can be created and who we can reach through the magnetic force of the arts.”