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Wealthy Theatre's blueprint for survival seeks funding in its final months

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Wealthy Theatre's Sustainability Campaign is more than halfway to the goal, in the final months - please help us embrace the future to preserve the past!
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How to donate

This month you may have learned about the final push to complete the Wealthy Theatre Sustainability Campaign - whether by postcard in the mail, tabletop display at a local business, PSA on WYCE 88.1FM, email newsletter, or other means.

This campaign is vital for the future of your community gathering space: the identity, accessibility, health and well-being of Wealthy Theatre depend on the Sustainability Campaign meeting its goal. We're more than halfway there, and moving quickly - with over $12,000 of additional donations just this week. We know we can get there, but we're going to need help from the entire community, and fast.

Visit the Campaign website,

or call (616) 459-4788 x130 to make a gift.

You can also visit us at 1130 Wealthy Street SE, take a tour, learn more and support the heart of the Wealthy Theatre Historic District.

We’ve raised just over $350,000 to date, with thousands of individual donations and major gifts from Steelcase, the VanAndel Family, the Wege Foundation, Brewery Vivant, Rockford Construction, the DeVos Family, Irwin Seating Company, Founders Brewing Co., the Frey Foundation and others.

/courtesy of Rockford Construction

"For us, the history of this place... is the one constant," says Erin Wilson, director of Wealthy Theatre. "It's the future that we're responsible for, as stewards of this place. And that is a great responsibility."

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (CMC), which owns and operates Wealthy Theatre, has taken a proactive approach to historic preservation by designing The Wealthy Theatre Sustainability Campaign to address emerging threats.

We need you to help complete the campaign.

The 30-point plan includes construction projects and technology updates "to keep Wealthy Theatre healthy, relevant and accessible, all of which are part of the intrinsic identity of this community space," Wilson says. "Threats emerge and we have to do something about it while we're strong enough."

Wilson says emerging threats include a deterioriating facade, energy bills rising seven percent annually and technologies that are becoming obsolete.

The $550,000 campaign has less than $199,000 to go.

Projects include containment measures to reduce energy loss, implementation of some solar, replacement of wasteful stage lights with LED, upgrades to HD cameras to archive community events, a better projector, beautification efforts in the parking lot and much-needed repairs to the water-damaged facade.

The immediate past

Wealthy Theatre has played a big role in the recovery of the neighborhood. The story of the resurgence of this community began in the 1990s with the work of a group of residents. The Southeast Economic Development organization (S.E.E.D.) brought this historic place back from the brink of destruction. In 2004, the community's theatre went dark once again, and the doors closed. City and community leaders asked CMC to reopen Wealthy Theatre, saying CMC's vision provided the last, best hope for the Grand Rapids landmark.

CMC immediately opened the theatre to the community to use. Every year since, usage has increased 125%. Wealthy Theatre is once again considered viable.

The present problem

But the reality is not simple with a cavernous, 100-year old historic place. The facade is real wood, mortar, copper, and glass, and it is deteriorating. Energy costs rise by thousands of dollars every year.

"If we offset rising energy costs by raising fees for usage, we lose our accessibility to underserved communities," Wilson said. "We [decided to] set ourselves on another course, to find another way to reduce costs without raising fees."

Wilson said the 30-point Sustainability Campaign addresses these threats, comprehensively and affordably.

"We've taken the approach that historic preservation is not a reaction, but anticipation," Wilson said. "We're either a nonprofit acting like a business, or a business acting like a nonprofit, but either way this place serves a community good, so we're not just just talking about preservation of a building. We're talking about preserving access, openness and usefulness."

What happens now, with your help

Implementing the plan relies on the support the community served by this great place.

At midnight on New's Year's Eve in 2011, Seth Bernard and May Erlewine turned on a single LED lamp - kicking off the Centennial anniversary of Wealthy Theatre, and the Sustainability Campaign.

On Midnight this year, at the close of the year of fundraising, we hope to return the favor and illuminate Seth & May with LED stage lights that drawa mere 7% of the electricity used by the existing lights.

Please support this place, and this important moment in our past, present and future.

We need your help to realize our goal.

"Wealthy Theatre not only serves the community," Wilson says. "It is a reflection of the community, and a relationship with all of you who love this place.

"We need you now."

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