$2.5 million kicks off Paramount’s Act2 campaign to launch series of projects in downtown Aurora

Aurora’s Paramount Theatre announced it has been awarded its largest grant ever – a $2.5 million donation from the Dunham Fund.

The Dunham Fund’s lead grant toward the $4.5 million goal of the Act 2 Capital Campaign will support three major areas of expansion and improvement:

⦁ Creation of the new Paramount School of Performing Arts in downtown Aurora in the new John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, currently under construction at the intersection of Galena Boulevard and Stolp Avenue, directly adjacent to the Paramount. Slated to open in January 2019, the Paramount School of Performing Arts will encourage and train young actors, dancers and musicians for a culture-filled life, nurture the arts in Chicago’s western suburbs and add to the excitement, cultural and economic activity in Aurora’s downtown business district.

⦁ The replacement of every Paramount Theatre seat through a dollar-for-dollar matching grant. All 1,888 original seats have served more than eight million visitors since the Paramount Theatre opened in 1931. Already through this important campaign, Paramount patrons have donated funds for the replacement of more than 400 seats. Installation of the seats will begin this summer, and audiences can look forward to all new, larger and more comfortable seats thanks to the Dunham Fund’s matching grant.

⦁ Modernization of the Paramount’s 173-seat sister stage, the Copley Theatre, located in North Island Center directly across the street from the Paramount. Act 2 Capital Campaign funds will support much-needed upgrades and improvements in the Copley, built in 1981, including replacement of carpeting and seats, updating technical equipment, expanded restrooms, new heating and air conditioning systems and remodeled backstage and dressing areas. These improvements will boost cultural and economic activity even further in downtown Aurora, making the space suitable for smaller shows, as well as a debut venue for a new works program at the Paramount.

Civic leaders, Paramount supporters and members of the press gathered inside Aurora’s North Island Center at a press conference today for the official kick-off of the Act 2 capital fundraising campaign and the announcement of the Dunham Fund’s unprecedented lead grant.

Former Aurora Mayor Thomas J. Weisner, an original advocate of the Paramount’s bold move in 2010 to transform itself from a touring house to a producer of its own award-winning Broadway musical series, is Chair of the Paramount’s Act 2 Capital Campaign. Weisner began by announcing that Bruce Goldsmith and Ed Schmitt, Jr. will serve as honorary co-chairs for the Act 2 Capital Campaign. “In appointing Bruce and Ed as honorary co-chairs – each of them deserving in his own right – we wish to honor the memory of their respective parents, Anne Goldsmith and Ed Schmitt, Sr., both of whom were unmatched in their love and support of the Paramount,” said Weisner.

Weisner also recognized other Act 2 committee members including Christina DeGustino, Bruce Grider, Hon. R. Peter Grometer, Jonathan Hylton, Brian Konen, Terence Kothe, Gary McMann, Matt Miller, Donald Pilmer, Esther Saltijeral, John Savage, William Small, Jr. and Scott Voris.

“We are also here to celebrate the Dunham Fund’s magnificent boost to our capital campaign’s launch with its generous $2.5 million donation,” said Weisner. “Dunham’s incredible support has been a key to the revitalization of the Paramount Theater, helping spur its growth in just six years to capture the third largest subscriber base in the entire nation.” Weisner stated his belief that this new support from the Dunham Fund will take both the Paramount and Aurora’s downtown to the next level. “Adding a school of performing arts to our community will have an incredibly positive impact on Aurora area children and families for generations to come,” said Weisner.

“Every project we support is worthy and deserving,” responded Wendy Hirsch, Chairperson of the Dunham Fund. “However, there is no other organization that has impacted more people in Aurora than the Paramount Theatre. The Dunham Fund is extremely proud to support the Paramount’s capital campaign with this ‘lead gift.’”

Current Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin added, “Since the launch of Paramount’s self-produced Broadway Series in 2011, the number of patrons has grown from 52,000 to more than 320,000 annually. Clearly, under the strong leadership of President and CEO Tim Rater, the Paramount is attracting more people to Aurora, and the theater continues to be both a critical cultural asset and a catalyst for growth and revitalization. The Paramount School of Performing Arts will provide new opportunities for Aurora’s youth. It will encourage and train actors, dancers and musicians for a culture-filled life, further nurture the arts in our community and add excitement and vibrancy to our reemerging downtown.”

Jonathan Hylton, Board President, Aurora Civic Center Authority, which oversees the Paramount Theatre, thanked the Dunham Fund, noting “the Dunham Fund is like a beacon, shining a light for all to see on how supporting the arts can bring countless benefits to a community. We are grateful to the Dunham Fund for leading the way with this critical first gift to our new Act 2 Capital Campaign, setting the example for all to see.”

The Dunham Fund’s Wendy Hirsch concluded, “The new Arts Center and the School of Performing Arts in particular will be another step forward in improving lives in and around Aurora. We extend our thanks to the entire Paramount Nation for your willingness to push the envelope and for your tireless efforts to continue to change the face of Aurora’s downtown through the arts.”

The Dunham Fund’s $2.5 million contribution toward the Act 2 Capital Campaign’s $4.5 million fundraising goal is a momentous and rousing kickoff to this important endeavor. For information on how to contribute, contact Kathleen M. Arko, Vice President of Development, Paramount Theatre, katiea@paramountarts.com or (630) 723-2484.

Construction of the new Paramount School of Performing Arts is already well underway inside the historic former Waubonsee Community College building, directly adjacent to the Paramount Theatre. The new performing arts school will be the anchor tenant in the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, revealed today as the official name of the new $35 million, 80,000-square foot mixed-use development that will also bring a higher end restaurant to downtown Aurora, along with 38 affordable, loft-style apartments for working artists.

When complete, Aurora’s downtown will be able to boast of a live performing arts and education complex that fills a full city block, serves as an exciting new destination for arts and culture and powers the continued economic revitalization of Aurora’s downtown business district. The apartments and restaurant will debut in the Fall, meaning Paramount patrons can look forward to a convenient, upscale new location for pre- or post-show fine dining by the launch of the 2018-19 theater season. Bids are now being considered from top Chicago restaurant groups interested in managing the new restaurant space. Expect further details about the restaurant by summer.

The new Paramount School of Performing Arts will open registration in the fall and begin running a full roster of classes, private lessons and camps in acting, music, comedy and dance starting in early 2019. Courses for children as young as six months will be offered with opportunities for adults and seniors, as well. The school is committed to being accessible and affordable to all students, including persons with special needs and from low-income families.

Currently, construction crews are reconverting the basement and first floor to house over 23,000-square-feet of private and group classroom space, parent lounges, a keyboard lab, a music recording studio and a 1,400-square-foot sprung floor dance studio.

The school’s crown jewel – a 1,200-square-foot flexible studio theater – will double as downtown Aurora’s newest live performance space. The new theater will be outfitted with retractable seating, with additional balcony seating above to accommodate up to 165 audience members for student performed plays, musicals, dance and live music events.

In addition, Paramount will have a new, 8,000-square-foot rehearsal space that replicates the actual size of the Paramount Theatre stage, a first for the company since it began producing its own Broadway musicals in 2011. Finally, Paramount will receive four guest apartments in the building to house out-of-town actors, directors and designers working on its productions.

The additional 38 apartments on the second and third floors are likewise designed to attract and support working artists in downtown Aurora. A street-level gallery will display residents’ works of art for students, residents and the community at large.

The Aurora Civic Center Authority (ACCA), led by Tim Rater, President and CEO, already manages the Paramount Theatre, Copley Theatre and RiverEdge Park and will oversee its new education and rehearsal facilities in the new John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center. Shannon Cameron, an arts educator with experience at schools and theaters around the U.S., has already been hired as Paramount’s first-ever Director of Education and Community Engagement. Cameron is working with community partners, developing curriculum and building her staff to gear up for classes opening after the first of the year.

The former Waubonsee Community College building was originally the Block and Kuhl Store, built in 1928 by the Aurora Development Company. It is notable for its architectural terra cotta cladding, prism glass transoms above the storefronts and Chicago style windows on the second and third floor. The building became home for a Carson Pirie and Scott store in 1961. After a major remodeling, the Waubonsee College Extension Center opened in 1986. The building has been vacant since 2011, when the college moved its downtown campus to a new location across the river. Invest Aurora, the non-profit development arm of the city, purchased the building last fall for $350,000. In sum, the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center is a $35 million project by The Community Builders Inc., a non-profit developer, in partnership with the Paramount Theatre, the city of Aurora and the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

In recent years, the Paramount Theatre has proven to be a catalyst for economic growth in Aurora’s downtown. The ripple effect has been profound: thousands of people have enjoyed award-winning Broadway shows in a landmark setting, and those patrons have filled the city’s restaurants and businesses. The Dunham Fund is proud to provide a $2.5 million grant for the support of the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center. The center will be the next step in the Paramount’s efforts to catapult Aurora to be the absolute best it can be.

John C. Dunham established the Dunham Fund in 1996. His dream was to “make the world a more comfortable, safer place for mankind to live and prosper.” Since his passing in 2017, the Dunham Fund’s board continues to honor his life and tremendous philanthropic spirit through grants to Aurora, Illinois area organizations. His legacy lives on through the Dunham Fund, which today is the largest private foundation in the Aurora area. For more information, visit dunhamfund.org.

The Paramount Theatre is the center for performing arts, entertainment and arts education in Aurora, Illinois, the state’s second largest city. The 1,888-seat Paramount Theatre is nationally renowned for the quality and caliber of its presentations, historic beauty and superb acoustics.

In 2010, the Aurora Civic Center Authority (ACCA) hired Tim Rater as President and CEO of the Paramount Theatre. Rater’s mission was to radically boost the theater’s programming and audience base by transforming the Paramount into one of Chicago’s top self-producing, professional Equity musical theaters. Rater hired award-winning Chicago director Jim Corti as the Paramount’s first-ever artistic director. In 2011, the Paramount introduced its inaugural four-play Broadway Musical Series with Corti’s critically acclaimed production of My Fair Lady. In just six blockbuster seasons, Paramount has leapt to the top of Chicago’s musical theater scene, winning unanimous audience and critical acclaim, and an unprecedented number of Joseph Jefferson nominations and awards. Today, more than 36,000 subscribers from throughout the city and suburbs enjoy Paramount’s Broadway-quality productions at highly affordable prices, making the Paramount the third largest subscription house in the nation.

The Paramount Theatre continues to expand its artistic and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Tim Rater, President and CEO, Aurora Civic Center Authority; Jim Corti, Artistic Director, Paramount Theatre; a dedicated Board of Trustees and a devoted staff of live theater and music professionals. For more, visit ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.