Culverhouses, Abernathys name performance theatres in Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts

Culverhouse gift builds upon couple’s two support funds established since 2019

A group of women pose for a photo on a theater stage
Eliza P. Culverhouse, seen here with members of the Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre in 2019, has continued her support of UA Dance programs with a gift to name the dance theatre in the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts the Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre.


Another step forward has been made in the development of the new performing arts center on the campus of The University of Alabama with the formal naming of the facility as well as its two most prominent performance spaces.

In addition to officially naming the facility the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts in honor of the Mark Smith family of Huntsville, the UA System Board of Trustees Friday approved the naming of both the Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre and the Robert and Laura Abernathy Theatre in the Smith Center. UA held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Smith Center on the Bryce Campus in October 2023.

For Eliza and Hugh Culverhouse, supporting University of Alabama Dance programs is both a nod to their pasts and a promise for the future.

Eliza was one of five children, and her parents encouraged participation in the performing arts. Her father, Irwin Perlmutter, was a neurosurgeon who played piano and studied ballet. Later, Eliza’s interest in dance and creative arts would influence her work as an aerobics teacher.

The couple have established a pair of support funds for UA Dance since 2019, and Eliza says her time spent with UA Dance students and faculty during that span has reinforced the importance of preserving and growing performing arts programs at UA and nationwide.

“One thing that’s always appealed to me is including dance, music and theatre as part of one’s entire education,” she said. “The creativity and passion students have for their craft, the history and their appreciation for those who came before them is incredibly inspiring.”

Now, the Culverhouses have reached a new milestone in their support of UA Dance through their $3 million gift to UA to name the dance theatre in the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts in Eliza’s name. The 450-seat dance theatre is one of four state-of-the-art performance and rehearsal venues in the Smith Center that feature a variety of upgrades, including larger stage openings and off-stage spaces, adjustable acoustics and engineered floors, among others.

A man and woman pose for a photo outdoors in front of a white building
Robert and Laura Abernathy have served on the cabinet of UA’s Campaign for the Performing Arts since its launch in 2017 and have strengthened their support of the arts through a gift to name the drama performance theatre in the Smith Center the Robert and Laura Abernathy Theatre.

“Having my time to sit and be with the students in the dance program, I learn and glean so much from them that I hope I give back to them the hope, inspiration and burning desire to continue doing the beautiful things they’re doing,” Eliza said.

The Eliza P. Culverhouse Dance Theatre is a landmark moment in the couple’s support of UA Dance programs. In 2019, the Culverhouses made a $500,000 gift that established the Eliza P. Culverhouse Fund for Excellence in Dance, which allows for the recruiting and funding of guest artists and financial support for priority needs such as costumes, equipment and other student support. In 2021, Eliza made a $250,000 contribution to create the Eliza P. Culverhouse Graduate Support Fund in Dance, which supports graduate students in the dance Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in furthering their craft.

Hugh said he is excited to continue their support of UA Dance, as it’s both a passion and furthers the University’s mission to support humanities.

“For a number of years, we’ve supported athletics, the business college, ROTC … the entire University,” he said. “The University is what we believe in, and dance and the fine arts are a critical part of it.

“Hopefully, the actions of Eliza and myself will spur others to make gifts to the Smith Center and realize the importance for students to be exposed to fine arts.”

Abernathys name performance theatre

The theatre for drama performances in the Smith Family Center will be named for Robert and Laura Abernathy following a $3 million gift from the couple.

The 350-seat proscenium-style theatre’s design will provide a more intimate artist-to-audience connection and an elevated experience for each patron.

Laura said the unique pairing of historical elements of the Bryce property and new construction initially inspired their support for the campaign.

“And the theatre was something that, once we saw it was available for naming, we knew we’d enjoy being a part of,” Robert added.

A family poses for a photo while holding shovels at a dig site
In October 2023, the University held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts, located on the Bryce campus. The Smith family, from left: Sarah, Cameron, Clay, Linda and Kate.

The Abernathys have served on the cabinet for UA’s Campaign for the Performing Arts since its launch in 2017 and have been integral in helping raise more than $40 million to support the construction of the Smith Center.

“This has been the most successful capital campaign for a non-athletics building in the university’s history,” Robert said. “The success of the campaign speaks to the broad range of donors that this project appealed to and the leadership of (campaign co-chairs) Bill and Mary Battle. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this campaign.”

The couple has served on the academic committee of the College of Arts and Science’s Leadership Board and fund the Laura C. and Robert E. Abernathy Endowed Scholarship in the college.

Robert also serves as a cabinet member of The Rising Tide 2.0 Capital Campaign.

The forthcoming naming of the Smith Center was announced in 2022 following a $20 million gift made in memory of Mark Smith, co-founder of the global telecommunications company ADTRAN, and lifelong supporter of the arts. Mark’s son, Clay, a graduate of the Culverhouse College of Business at UA, along with his wife, Cameron, a graduate of the College of Communication and Information Sciences, and his mother, Linda, made the gift.

“The fact that the Smith family is naming the performing arts portion of the building is really special,” Robert said. “At the groundbreaking, they had three generations of Smith family members there, which speaks to the generations of University of Alabama students who will benefit from the performing arts center.”