Nancy Wolter is happily married, but that’s not stopping Mesa’s cultural development officer from looking for her own Joe Millionaire. Since September 2001, Wolter has been looking for a few good men (and women) to donate large sums to the Mesa Arts Center scheduled to open in fall 2004.
Given the stalled economy, Wolter has done surprisingly well. Working with the 18-member Campaign Cabinet of the Mesa Arts and Entertainment Alliance, Wolter has secured $2.35 million in pledges from arts supporters. But that $1 million donor — t he largest naming opportunity for the $90 million four-theater arts center — ha s proven elusive.
In exchange for $1 million, the center will name its 1,600-seat Lyric Theater in honor or memory of a loved one. Wolter says she won’t reject a corporate donation, although she can’t imagine the city council would give its OK to ‘‘The Hooters Lyric Theater.’’
‘‘Frankly, I’m surprised we’ve had so little response from developers,’’ Wolter says. ‘‘They’ve made millions of dollars off the growth in the East Valley. I’m hoping they would want to give back to the communities that have supported them.’’
‘‘Giving back to the community’’ is a phrase Wolter has heard frequently over the past 18 months. For instance, Mesa residents Bill and Jean Eaton donated $125,000 for the center’s north lobby. In making the pledge, Eaton said, ‘‘This community has been really good to me, and I want to give something back.’’
Wolter says even before bids came in, she knew extra funds would be needed to complete special features of the complex. That’s where the Mesa Arts and Entertainment Alliance came in. Helmed by arts patron Joanie Flatt, the alliance was formed in 1996 to champion the new arts center. Rather than wait to add finishing touches after the complex opened, the alliance stepped up to the plate to raise money so amenities could be added during construction.
Some $3.7 million is needed for equipment, furnishings and special features that otherwise would have been put on hold. Former Mesa mayor Wayne Brown, eager for the center to open, agreed to co-chair the Campaign Cabinet with his wife, Kathye.
Three other former Mesa mayors — Eldon Cooley, Wayne Pomeroy and Don Strauch — also have worked on the project. Brown attributes some of their fund-raising success to the generosity of the cabinet members themselves.
‘‘We were advised early on that if the people who were asking for contributions also contributed, the campaign would go better,’’ says Brown, Mesa’s mayor from 1996 to 2000. ‘‘That’s proven true.’’
The Browns donated $150,000 for the center’s sculpture courtyard. His mother, Elva, also donated $150,000 for the plaza at Center and Main streets.
As with most major donors, Brown says his family had specific reasons for underwriting their little corner of the mammoth arts complex: ‘‘We wanted to attach our names to terraces because that’s where people gather.’’
Not all the donors are longtime East Valley residents. Will Prather, founder of Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in east Mesa, donated $50,000 for the arts center’s acting studio. He’s only been in town 18 months, but investing in the center was a given for him.
‘‘We’ve been very fortunate at Broadway Palm,’’ Prather says. ‘‘When we do something right, we want to spread the wealth.’’
Wolter says she thinks people have been so generous because they’ve been waiting so long for the arts center, which has been on the drawing board since the ’60s.
‘‘Going into this, we were all kind of scared because of Sept. 11, 2001, but people have been willing to dig deep,’’ she says. ‘‘I just know there’s someone out there with a million dollars who would love to see their name or a loved one’s name on the Lyric Theater.’’
DONATIONS TO DATE
$500,000 – 550-seat Virginia G. Piper Repertory Theater
$300,000 – 200-seat Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse
$200,000 – 99-seat Anita Cox Farnsworth Studio Theater
$150,000 – E.J. and Elva Brown Family Plaza
$150,000 – Wayne J. and Kathye W. Brown Sculpture Courtyard
$125,000 – Bill and Jean Eaton Theater Lobby
$125,000 – Rhodes Family Theater Lobby
$100,000 – George H. Fathauer Family Lobby
$100,000 – Lecture Room (anonymous)
$100,000 – Joanie L. Flatt Family Foundation Drama Terrace
$75,000 – Michael Flatt Charitable Fund Garden
$75,000 – Wells Fargo Garden
$50,000 – E.N. ‘‘Eddie’’ Basha Sr. Ceramics Studio
$50,000 – Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre Acting Studio
$50,000 – Mr. & Mrs. Eldon Cooley Conference and Meeting Room
$50,000 – East Valley Tribune Print Studio
$50,000 – Warren Langfitt Painting Studio
$50,000 – Barbara Stimmel Jewelry Terrace
$50,000 – Jack and Jeanne Wright Family Dance Studio