Herzfeld Foundation donates $5 million to Milwaukee Rep for education center in downtown theater complex project

Rendering of The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center.

Last updated on February 1st, 2023 at 01:38 pm

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater announced today a $5 million donation from the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation – the single largest grant the foundation has ever made – as part of the Rep’s Powering Milwaukee Campaign for its planned new theater complex in downtown Milwaukee.

The grant will help build The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center in what will be called the Associated Bank Theater Center, creating a dedicated space for Milwaukee Rep’s growing student and community programming – a space the Rep currently does not have.

“The Herzfeld Foundation has been a terrific partner and consistent supporter of Milwaukee Repertory Theater for decades,” said Chad Bauman, executive director of the Rep. “The Foundation’s support of arts and education, in memory of Richard and Ethel, has been a driving force behind Milwaukee’s world-class cultural community. This visionary investment in Milwaukee’s future generations will ensure that we can grow our award-winning education and engagement programs and better serve the more than 20,000 students and countless community members who participate currently.”

The theater complex as it stands is not equipped to handle the large groups of students who visit from over 250 schools for all-day education programming, Bauman said.

“When we have 700-800 students come, they take over the whole building. Every hallway, every private office, every conference room, everywhere,” Bauman said. “We have a great facility in terms of providing a theatrical experience for them, but when they break off for workshops, it’s really difficult. There is no space.”

Currently, there are three theaters in the complex, meaning that at any given time there are multiple performances and shows in rehearsal. So, when the Rep’s Education & Engagement staff wants to schedule an experience, they “literally get a block at 2 a.m. that’s open,” Bauman said.

And demand is growing, particularly for programs that teach literacy and social emotional skills. The spike in schools reaching out to work with the Rep is partially attributable to the learning losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bauman, a teacher by training.

To address these issues, The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center will include:

  • A fully equipped performance venue with seating for up to 125 patrons
  • Multiple classrooms for rehearsals and workshops
  • Accessible restrooms
  • A prep kitchen for use during events
  • An entrance directly off the RiverWalk
  • A state-of-the-art event space made available to community partners

“Students won’t have to fight against all the other production capabilities in the theater complex to have classrooms or rehearsal space,” Bauman said.

With schematic design planned to start early February, construction on the center is a top priority, Bauman said. Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects, Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction, Mequon-based construction industry management and advisory firm Chamberlin LLC are working on the project.

The Rep has raised more than $43 million towards its $75 million Powering Milwaukee Campaign to build a new theater complex in place of its existing Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee. In addition to the Education & Engagement Center, there are plans for two new theaters and the Northwestern Mutual RiverWalk.

“For 70 years, Milwaukee has benefited from having a world-class theater in our city. For many of those years, the foundation has witnessed first-hand the transformative impact of Milwaukee Repertory Theater and its renowned education and engagement programs,” said Carmen Haberman, president of the Herzfeld Foundation. “We are proud to make this historic grant to Milwaukee Rep’s Powering Milwaukee Campaign to ensure that future generations continue to reap the benefits of the theater and its programming, to create a dedicated space to grow Milwaukee Rep’s education and engagement programs, and to power a more creative and connected Milwaukee.”

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