The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that HBCU alums LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson have given Spelman College the largest donation by alumni in the school’s 140-year history.
Richardson Jackson, a Spelman alumnus, and Jackson, a Morehouse alumnus, contributed $5 million to the Spelman John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts Center, where they met as students and aspiring performers.
Richardson Jackson and Jackson also reached out to other donors, including friends of the couple George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, who each contributed $10 million, Bank of America, and descendants of John D. Rockefeller, who each contributed $2 million and $300,000, bringing the total funds to $17.3 million.
The 57-year-old structure is in serious need of a complete renovation due to asbestos, inadequate ventilation, lack of disability access, and antiquated theater dressing rooms and facilities.
Since his arrival, Aku Kadogo, chair of the Theater and Performance Department, has been working on plans to renovate the facility.
“Renovation talk has been going on since I arrived at Spelman over seven and a half years ago,” Kadogo said. “You don’t really believe it until you see it, so I’m excited that this is happening.”
Plans to renovate the building have been in place for decades, according to Arthur E. Frazier III, Spelman’s director of facilities management and services, but they didn’t become a priority until Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, who originally came to the college to consult on the possibility of renovations, became president of the school.
The school had originally intended to construct a whole new building to house all of the performance art disciplines under one roof. The administration eventually decided to build a new building, the Center for Innovation and the Arts, designed by Studio Gang Architects in collaboration with Atlanta-based Goode Van Slyke Architecture, as well as renovate the existing theater in the John D. Rockefeller building, preserving its history while providing students with a modern facility.
None of this, according to Frazier, would have been conceivable if Richardson Jackson had shown interest in the project.
“Richardson Jackson expressed an interest in seeing the Baldwin Burroughs Theater in the Rockefeller building improved,” Frazier said. “One of the initial conversations I had with her happened to be on her 40th wedding anniversary. She shared that she and Sam met for the second time in that building. It has a special place in their hearts.”
“The entire theater and stage while also increasing the lobby, both horizontally and vertically, with a firm plan in place and a considerable reconstruction budget.” In addition, an elevator will be added to allow individuals with disabilities access, and the facilities and dressing rooms will be refurbished.”
Kadogo emphasized his enthusiasm for the facility’s future.
“We’re all excited that renovations are happening, but we’re really at the beginning,” he said. “Truthfully, it’s more of a hardship at the moment because we’re operating in temporary spaces. It’s an endurance test, but we’ve just got to be positive going forward.”
The theater, foyer, and dressing rooms will be renamed the LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson Performing Arts Center after the refurbishment is completed and in honor of their generosity.