This historic milestone was made possible by local philanthropists Gilbert and Jaylee Mead, who donated close to $35 million toward the project, prompting Arena to honor their exceptional generosity by naming the new complex Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
The Meads' gift is the largest ever made to an American regional theatre and one of the top 10 largest gifts to a non-profit arts organization in the U.S.
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," stated 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 Dec. 6 press conference at the resident American theatre. Smith, who directed her first musical at Arena with the Meads' support, was especially proud to announce this significant honor. She stated, "Infinitely passionate about the American musical and exceptionally generous, the Meads are true visionaries. 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 major 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," stated 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," stated 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 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 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.
Richard also noted, "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."
For more information about Arena, visit www.arenastage.org.
Arena Stage is recognized as one of the first not-for-profit theatres in the U.S. and a pioneer of the post-World War II regional theatre movement. It's the first regional theatre to send a production to Broadway and the first to receive the Tony Award, Arena Stage has rich history and traditions.