Opera House launches $300K capital fund drive

For only the second time in its nearly 20 years of operations, the 1891 Fredonia Opera House is embarking on a Capital Campaign to raise funds for needed improvements. The Campaign, titled Maintain & Sustain A Capital Campaign for the NEXT 20 Years, seeks to raise $300,000. It kicked off this week.

Opera House Executive Director Rick Davis says that the campaign will raise funding for needed technical improvements and for repairs to and replacement of various portions of the theatre’s building and infrastructure. The greatest need, totaling $80,000, says Davis, is for the purchase and installation of new digital cinema projection equipment.

In a publication mailed this week to more than 1,500 theatre patrons and community residents, Davis discusses the digital cinema need:

“By now, you have no doubt heard about the dilemma facing the nation’s small movie houses and performing arts centers that offer film series,” Davis said.

“The film studios, in a rare concerted move, have declared that by the end of 2013, they no longer will produce films in a 35mm film print format. Rather, they will only produce films digitally and distribute them on encrypted computer hard drives that are designed to work with specialized digital projection equipment. A number of the studios already have begun this transition by reducing the number of prints they manufacture, making it hard even now to secure 35mm prints of many movies. Thus the dilemma facing theatres, like the Opera House, that offer movies in a 35mm format, is that they must make a decision convert to a digital cinema projection system or stop presenting movies.

“For the Opera House, the decision is an easy one. The Cinema Series is our most popular and thus best attended series of events here at the Opera House. It constitutes roughly 43 percent of our annual attendance. We have a solid audience base for movies; and we believe that we offer something the commercial movie theatres cannot, a quality movie-going experience in a warm atmosphere where people feel they are part of a ‘community.’ Thus, we will purchase and install digital cinema projection equipment, even though converting to the film industry’s proprietary digital projection system will cost the Opera House just shy of $80,000.”

The campaign also will seek to raise money for other needs which include upgrades to and/or replacement of technology used in presenting live performances. “Live performance events here at the Opera House utilize our existing technology to the utmost,” Davis said. “We periodically rent additional sound equipment; we often force modifications to pre-established lighting designs; and we routinely decline presenting some artists and shows due to our technical limitations. This campaign will provide improvements to this equipment, which are basic equipment needs essential to keeping a theatre running today.”

Other needs to be funded by the campaign include repairs to the facility itself. The Opera House has operated year-round since 1997. This constant use has caused wear and tear on the facility and its fixtures. The air conditioning system for the theatre is now 17 years old; and regularly scheduled service checks routinely yield needed repairs or replacement of parts. Inevitably, it will need to be replaced entirely at a substantial cost. Seat bottoms have been moved so that the most worn cushions now occupy the least-used rows of the theatre; but as the Opera House staff strives to increase attendance, these uncomfortable seats will become the subject of patron complaints.

The Temple Street fire exit doors have rotted on the outside and need to be replaced. Sections of the theatre walls need a fresh coat of plaster to keep the crumbling at bay. And portions of the 120-year-old window frames and sashes have rotted and need to be replaced. Weatherization of these windows will help extend their life as well as minimize distraction to patrons from sound outside the building.

Davis notes that over the past few months, some longtime supporters of the Opera House have been approached as part of a Leadership Giving solicitation. “Thanks to the generous support of these members, this effort has raised funds totaling nearly 20 percent of the Campaign’s goal. So we launch our campaign already having taken a healthy step toward its success.”

Those wishing to contribute to the Maintain & Sustain campaign can donate funds outright or pledge donations to be paid over a period of up to three years. Gifts of stock or investments also will be accepted. It’s important to note that the money raised from the Maintain & Sustain campaign will not be used for daily operations, but will be restricted to funding the needed capital improvements. Likewise, the Opera House’s annual membership campaign, conducted in the fall of each year, will be used to generate funds for general operating purposes.

Chautauqua County’s only year-round performing arts center, the 1891 Fredonia Opera House is a member-supported not-for-profit organization located in Village Hall in downtown Fredonia. A complete schedule of events is available at www.fredopera.org.