The Groove Fund: Supporting the Connective Power of Art

Matt Popoli ’98, P’23, and his wife, Paula Popoli P’23 established the Groove Fund to put some muscle behind their belief in the power of art and the unique opportunities it offers for collaboration, community and diverse forms of expression.

The Fund, which promotes the study of dance, theater and the humanities, has had a dynamic impact at the College. It has brought guest artists to campus for workshops, lectures and performance series. It has helped to establish the Amherst College Dance Ensemble, a course modeled on a professional dance company that offers students the experience of working within a creative collective led by a visiting choreographer. It has supported a tour of the Ensemble to Boston, New York and schools and performance spaces within the Pioneer Valley.

“We sometimes take for granted that arts and humanities will always be accessible,” Matt said. “In 2016, there was genuine concern that the National Arts and Humanities endowments could be eliminated. It is vital for society to keep creating and maintaining support and access to all forms of art, artists and culture. Paula and I made this gift with the hope that the Groove Fund will help provide resources to generations of future Amherst students to carry this torch.”

Wendy Woodson, the Roger C. Holden Professor of Theater and Dance, administers the Groove Fund and is delighted with what it has made possible. “Performing artists rely on collaboration and community—they always have,” Woodson said. “As a small department, we wanted to bring in more guest artists to broaden the scope of perspectives and approaches. Because of the Groove Fund, students now get on-their-feet engagement with a diverse set of working artists.” During the 2018-19 academic year, 15 guest artists visited the College to teach master classes and perform.

For Popoli, an economics major and football player while at Amherst, the inspiration to create the Groove Fund came from the College’s open curriculum. “I loved that I was able to explore a range of academic disciplines of my choosing outside of my major,” he said. “And while the STEM disciplines are taking on an increasingly important role in our society and on campus, Paula and I believe that Amherst’s Theatre and Dance Department provides students with equally important learning opportunities and experiences.” He hopes the Fund’s playful name—inspired by daughter Sadie, an enthusiastic dancer and recent Hampshire College graduate—will encourage more Amherst students to step out of their comfort zones and take a class that they might not have ordinarily considered.

Popoli has felt the connective power of the arts and believes that all students stand to benefit from it. “Living in a society that has become increasingly polarized, we have found the harmony and warmth created by Wendy, her faculty and the performances of the Theater and Dance Department to be a welcome and reinvigorating part of our lives,” he said, “and we hope that many more Amherst students experience this as well.”

A group of performers in a line on a dark stage
The Amherst College Dance Ensemble on stage after a performance.