A Closer Look at Playhouse Square's Recent Fundraising Hot Streak

Forgive us for repeating ourselves, but the following quote from Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network seems only to get better with age: "When you go fishing, you can catch a lot of fish, or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy's den and see a picture of him standing next to fourteen trout?"

When we initially cited these words, it was within the context of microgrants, expressing the idea that, sure, big grants are great, but small — and, in this case, very small — grants aren't bad either.

But not everyone can afford to abide by this logic. Take Cleveland's Playhouse Square. With more than 10,000 seats, Playhouse Square is the second-largest unified arts complex in the United States, after New York's Lincoln Center.

Earlier this summer, the square launched its capital and endowment campaign, "Advancing the Legacy, the Campaign for Playhouse Square." It's goal wasn't $250,000, which was the amount of a grant the Milwaukee Repertory Theater received to fix its dilapidated structure. Nor was it even $35 million, the goal set by Foundation of the Carolinas to renovate its historic Carolina Theatre in Charlotte?

It wasn't even close, actually.

Playhouse Square set a goal of $100 million and guess what? With 2015 just around the corner, it's almost halfway there thanks to the largest one-time gift in the downtown art complex's history, a $10 million give from the Richard J. Fasenmyer Foundation.

Fasenmyer, who died at 55 nearly 12 years ago, served on the Playhouse Square board and was a longtime champion of the arts, both to enhance the quality of life for the city's residents and as an economic engine for Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike the aforementioned examples, the campaign, called "Advancing the Legacy, the Campaign for Playhouse Square," is more than renovating a building. On a practical level, the campaign will pay for things like a production fund, improvements to performance spaces, and the "fattening" of Playhouse Square's $16 million endowment. 

Oh, and money will also be used for renovation purposes, specifically the State and Ohio Theaters, as well as Connor Palace, formerly known as the Palace Theatre, which was renamed after Chris and Sara Connor donated $9 million to the campaign in June.

But it's almost as important to view this campaign from a conceptual level. Playhouse Square embodies "art as an engine" for civic engagement, neighborhood renewal, and economic development. It shows that an arts institution can be the creative hub of a city. It's something that Cleveland residents take very seriously and, as a result, the brains behind the square are thinking in terms of generations, not years.

"This really is all about advancing Playhouse Square's legacy," said Playhouse Square president Art Falco, "making sure that 30 to 40 years from now, Playhouse Square will be in the same strong financial condition that it's in today."

Or in other words, sometimes you just gotta go big.