When the Woodruff Arts Center announced in December that it had received a $38 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, officials hinted that the largest gift in the Midtown institution’s 46-year history was the start of something even bigger.
On Wednesday, arts center leaders went public with that bigger picture, launching the public phase of a $100 million Transformation Campaign aimed at increasing endowments, renovating the Alliance Theatre and Memorial Arts Building and providing greater arts access for families.
The figure sounds highly ambitious, but Woodruff officials confirmed Wednesday that they already have received commitments of more than $62 million.
The center’s objectives had become clearer in a heady stream of announced gifts that started with December’s, but the center’s fund-raising goal had been under wraps until Wednesday’s announcement at a first-time breakfast uniting board members of the center and its four divisions.
A hundred million is a substantial sum in a city that boasts only four non-profit arts entities with annual budgets eclipsing $2 million — in addition to the Woodruff, Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Opera and the Center for Puppetry Arts. But the Woodruff, with its administration and divisions (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, High Museum of Art and Arts for Learning) operating on a $90 million combined budget yearly, has dominated Atlanta’s arts funding landscape for more than half a century.
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At Wednesday’s launch, officials confirmed new gifts of $6.1 million from Anne Cox Chambers, $4.1 million from Alliance Theatre board members and $1.25 million from the Abraham J. & Phyllis Katz Foundation (to endow an orchestra musician’s position).
Chambers is serving as the campaign’s honorary chair. She is a principal owner of Cox Media Group, which operates The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
In addition to the Woodruff Foundation $38 million grant, the center previously had announced $6.6 million from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation and $1.25 million from Carl and Sally Gable. Other sources of commitments were not made public.
It’s a startling turn of fortunes for the Woodruff after a bruising nine-week lockout of ASO musicians last fall. The second lockout in two years generated harsh critiques from the players and their supporters of the stewardship by arts center administrators and board members.
Leaders emphasized a message of healing on Wednesday.
“We always knew that we had funders that were ready to step up and do remarkable things once we sort of got our house in order,” arts center vice president of advancement Janine Musholt said. “But they needed to see us operating in the black, they needed to understand that they were investing in a sustainable organization. So while that seemed like such a dark time, it was an important time so that we could move forward with all of this fund-raising work toward our bigger aspirations.”
Added Transformation Campaign director Kristin Hathaway Hansen, “Now we get to help provide a solution.”
The campaign began in early 2012 as an Alliance initiative, mainly focused on renovation. It merged with the Woodruff’s broader push in January 2014.
“The pace of the campaign has been really satisfying to us,” Musholt said of the fruitful quiet phase, which has moved the arts center more than three-fifths of the way to goal. “It has happened relatively quickly.”
Woodruff leaders target the end of 2016 to complete the drive.
The Alliance renovation is scheduled to begin in spring 2017, with the theater planning to perform at a temporary home during the 2017-18 season, returning in fall 2018.
Woodruff officials refer to the Alliance renovation and other improvements as “Phase One” of the Transformation Campaign. Though no details have been announced, a second phase could include a similarly complete renovation of Symphony Hall, a redo of the Memorial Arts Building’s Peachtree Street entrance and more high-profile spaces for educational and family programming.
The orchestra and theater halls were key original components of the Memorial Arts Center, built in response to the fatal 1962 crash of a chartered plane full of Atlanta’s arts community leaders near Orly Field outside Paris. While the ASO space has undergone periodic refurbishments and enhancements, the Alliance hall has had minimal improvements.
The arts center’s changes are not just physical.
Development employees who long were scattered among the Woodruff administration and its divisions, sometimes competing against each other for support, gradually transitioned into a team under the direction of Musholt. And the Woodruff recently announced that its Arts for Learning division will merge with the Alliance’s educational outreach, becoming the Alliance Arts For Learning Institute, under the theater’s umbrella.