Arena Stage announced this week it has received donations totaling more than $100 million for the renovation of its facilities and the creation of a state-of-the-art theatre campus. This was made possible by local philanthropists Gilbert and Jaylee Mead, who donated close to $35 million—prompting Arena to honor their exceptional generosity by naming the new complex Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre.
The Meads’ gift is the largest ever made to an American regional theatre and one of the top ten largest gifts to a non-profit arts organization in the US. The gifts support The Next Stage Campaign, a $120 million fundraising project launched in 2002.
“The Next Stage Campaign will create and showcase a new building and more,” says John M. Derrick, Jr., president of the Arena Stage Board of Trustees. “It also moves Arena Stage one step closer to becoming the national center for the development of new American work.”
Arena Stage’s artistic director Molly Smith and executive director Stephen
Richard announced the milestone and unveiled Arena’s new name at a press conference at the theatre. Smith, who directed her first musical at Arena with the Meads’ support, was especially proud to announce this significant honor.
“Infinitely passionate about the American musical and exceptionally generous, the Meads are true visionaries,” Smith comments. “Because they are dedicated to sustaining and encouraging the development of American theatre, their gift will be a legacy not only for our theatre alone, but to this city and the nation.”
The Meads played a pivotal role in the overall fundraising effort by issuing a challenge to Arena in September 2005: if the theatre could raise $20 million in the following year, the Meads would match those funds dollar for dollar. The combination of donations Arena received over the year allowed the theatre to meet that challenge and ultimately put its fundraising over the $100 million mark.
“We are so pleased to be able to play a part in bringing this incredible building to Washington,” says Gilbert Mead. “We look forward to many wonderful performances at Arena Stage for years to come and to seeing the impact Arena will continue to have on the American theatre.”
“Gilbert and Jaylee Mead have a long history with Arena Stage, going back as far as 1977 when they first became subscribers. They’ve been board members since 1991 and are newly appointed Life Trustees,” says executive director Stephen Richard. “Their generosity will not only make Arena’s art better for its artists and patrons, but also further American theatre as an art form by building a home for American playwrights.”
To date, Arena Stage has raised 85 percent of the funds needed for the $120 million project. Arena’s own Board of Trustees donated more than $23 million, and the theatre has also received private contributions at the $1 million level or more from Mrs. Josephine Ammerman, Diane and Norman Bernstein, Donald and Nancy de Laski, Fannie Mae Foundation, Freddie Mac Foundation, Joan and David Maxwell, Wendy and Franklin Raines, The Wallace Foundation and two additional anonymous donors.
Arena’s redevelopment is in line with the District of Columbia’s pledge to improve the entire Southwest Waterfront. Arena Stage is poised to be the first major redevelopment in this dynamic area, a comprehensive effort which will include a new ballpark for the Nationals, DC’s Major League Baseball team, in addition to serving as a magnet for other arts, entertainment and retail endeavors.
Executive director Stephen Richard notes, “Of course, we must also acknowledge the overwhelming and generous support of the District, without which this project simply would not be possible. The District made the construction of our new theatre a priority of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative in Southwest, and has understood from the outset that the arts can be a powerful engine for economic development and neighborhood revitalization.”
Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose remarks, “Arena Stage continues to be the indispensable anchor of the District’s efforts to redevelop the Southwest Waterfront. Once completed, Arena’s new theatre complex will immediately become a signature piece of waterfront architecture—another landmark building for Washington, D.C. that will attract tourists and architecture enthusiasts, as well as theatre patrons.”
The new, expansive complex of three theatres, multiple workspaces and artist apartments will function as a 24-hour theatre campus designed to enable artists to live, work and perform in the space while also serving the needs of diverse audiences, including community groups and students from around the region.