How Did the Muskogee Little Theatre Score a Critical Construction Grant?

The Oklahoma City-based Inasmuch Foundation awarded the Muskogee Little Theatre a $100,000 grant for construction of a new performing arts facility, suggesting that foundations remain committed to helping small theaters looking to expand their operations.

In many ways, small theaters are the lifeblood of the country's nonprofit theater scene. Don't get us wrong. We have nothing against big city ensembles and organizations, but on a sheer numbers scale, we'd venture to guess that smaller theater groups in specific geographic regions collectively serve just as many customers as those in New York or Los Angeles.

Take the Muskogee Little Theatre for example. It's situated in Muskogee, Oklahoma and presents shows like The Little Mermaid and Cabaret that appeal to a wide range of audiences (for a very reasonable price of $15 per adult, no less). It offers a summer youth theatre camp as well as a schedule of classes, including a young actors studio, voice lessons, and weekend acting workshops. Not surprisingly, the theatre has enjoyed a good deal of success lately, and with success comes new challenges. Specifically, they have outgrown their existing facilities.

Now the theatre is thinking big. It hopes to build a $6.5 million, 15,020 square-foot performing arts center near downtown Muskogee and they're tantalizingly close to their goal, thanks to a $5.5 million grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation. Now they're faced with a common challenge facing other nonprofit organizations, which is the dreaded "last mile" of fundraising. In the theatre's case, it means raising the remaining $1 million to reach their goal.

Enter the Inasmuch Foundation, whose $100,000 grant is helping the theatre close the gap. What's interesting about the gift is that the foundation doesn't frequently dabble in the arts. Their mission statement notes that they "support education, health, human services and community enhancement initiatives throughout Oklahoma." Clearly, something about what the theatre was doing caught the foundation's attention. And don't just take our word for it. Inasmuch Foundation President and CEO Bob Ross said the foundation was "very impressed" with the theatre's application.

Of course, we don't know for sure what the application included, but we can safely assume a few things. First, the popularity of the theatre testifies to its ability to provide programming that resonates with local residents. Second, it's safe to say the theatre has their financial house in order and a compelling strategic plan (for corroborating evidence, look no further than the initial $5.5 million grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation).

Lastly, no application or project exists in a vacuum. The grant will be used to fund the construction of the new theatre that will also serve as an "anchor" business in the city's cultural district. To that end, the theatre has worked closely with Action in Muskogee, the city's redevelopment agency.

This announcement is another sign that foundations remain committed to supporting the construction or modification of arts facilities in small cities and towns across the country. For example, click here for IP's take on news about how the Milwaukee Repertory Theater netted a $250,000 grant from the United Performing Arts Fund to help repair its building, located in the heart of the city.