Guthrie Theater's Endowment Tops $23 Million

AFTER five years of campaigning and creative strategy, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has exceeded its own expectations - and those of the theater world - by earning more than $26 million in its "Campaign for Artistic Excellence."

Three million of the total ($26,114,345) will be used for improvements to the theater (fixing sight lines, acoustics, seat covers, roof, etc.), and the balance of $23 million will make its endowment fund one of the largest theater endowments in the country, according to Henry Young, campaign director.

The Guthrie's fund is big news in the arts world because up to now only museums and orchestras have earned that kind of endowment funding. Like other major arts institutions in the United States, regional nonprofit theater companies have been beset by cutbacks in government and corporate funding.

Most theater endowments are relatively modest as yet, but many companies have plans to escalate funding campaigns. The Alley Theatre in Houston holds a $5.2 million endowment and plans to embark on a four-year campaign to raise $10 million more. The American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., has a $4.5 million endowment, the Arena Stage in Washington D.C., $6 million, and Actors Theatre of Louisville (Ky.), $9 million.

The Guthrie's successful campaign points to a significant shift in the public's attitude toward theater's place in the community.

"I think the theater was not viewed as something permanent in the community until the '80s," says Mr. Young. "It was viewed more like commercial Broadway theater.... But the '80s marked a change in the communities' perception of theater - that it is as permanent to the community as a symphony orchestra, a university, or a museum."

The Guthrie fund-raising began with the assumption that the theater would find one large gift, Young says, but it never did. So the Guthrie took an unusual tact and appealed to its total institutional constituency - to anyone who had ever bought a ticket - and the people responded. Even out-of-state donations were surprisingly large.

A telephone campaign raised the average yearly contribution from $47 to $500.

Young says the Guthrie audience is highly possessive of its theater, which may account for the fact that audiences responded with $10 million in individual support. The balance was made up by corporate donations ($8.7 million), foundations ($6.5 million), and government grants ($900,000).

"The money is endowing in perpetuity the programs that were put into place four years ago," says Garland Wright, artistic director, "chief among which is to extend the acting company and to increase their remuneration, so the actors can make a commitment like this, as well as have homes and families and vote and do the things other human beings get to do."

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