Atlanta Life and Culture

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Woodruff Foundation gives Woodruff Arts Center $38 million grant

Christmas came early for the Woodruff Arts Center, which announced Friday morning that it has received a $38 million grant from the Woodruff Foundation.

The largest gift in the Midtown art center's 46-year history includes $25 million in endowment matching funds — including support for full-time musician positions with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra — and $13 million for capital improvements. Those capital funds, which do not require a match, will support a complete renovation of Alliance Theatre performance, education and public spaces.

The renovation will be so major for the Alliance spaces in the Memorial Arts Building, which have not significantly changed since the building opened in 1968, that the theater will have to secure a temporary home for at least one full season.

The news is a jolt of positive news for the Woodruff after a nine-week lockout of ASO musicians this fall, the second in two years, that drew harsh criticism of arts center administrators and board members by the players and their supporters. Management said it had no choice but to seek further musician concessions after the ASO ended 12 consecutive years with debt, including $2 million in fiscal 2014.

The four-year collective bargaining agreement finally reached Nov. 8 calls for the ASO, which was reduced to 77 full-time musicians this season from 88 in the 2012 agreement, to grow to 84 players by the end of year three and 88 by the end of year four.

The Woodruff Foundation matching funds, which the ASO will share equally with the fellow arts center divisions the Alliance and High Museum of Art, obviously positions the the orchestra to reach that contracted requirement if the funds can be matched.

Arts center president and CEO Virginia Hepner said Friday that another entity already has stepped forward to  pledge to endow one of the musician positions and others have expressed similar interest. The cost to endow a chair in perpetuity is $2 million to $2.5 million.

Other endowment funding will support educational and artistic programming at the High, Alliance and the arts center, according to the announcement.

The physical improvements planned for the Alliance are phase one of a yet-to-be-announced long-term plan to improve the Memorial Arts Building's public and performance spaces. Woodruff officials hope to complete the Alliance renovation project by the end of 2018. Hepner said plans for Symphony Hall improvements are not firm and subject to change.

The Woodruff Foundation's "generosity has been instrumental in our success for nearly 50 years, and this added support will help all of our arts partners to adapt and thrive for decades to come for the benefit of the community," Hepner said.

Though both are named for the late Coca-Cola Company leader Robert W. Woodruff, the Woodruff Foundation and Woodruff Arts Center are independent entities. The foundation focuses on improving the quality of life in Georgia by investing in health, education, economic opportunity and community vitality.

Come back to the Arts & Culture blog for more details in this developing story today.

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The AJC Features Team spotlights arts previews, reviews, profiles, news features and breaking news on Atlanta's cultural and life scene.