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Santa Barbara Philanthropists Pledge $3 Million to Music Academy

Shirley and Seymour Lehrers' gift includes a $1 million challenge grant for the recital hall renovation.

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Santa Barbara philanthropists Shirley and Seymour Lehrer plan to donate $3 million to support upgrades at the Music Academy of the West. (Music Academy of the West photo)

Santa Barbara philanthropists Shirley and Seymour Lehrer have announced plans to donate $3 million in support of ongoing programmatic and facility upgrades at the Music Academy of the West.

The gift includes a $1 million challenge grant that will help bring the academy’s recital hall renovation fundraising campaign to a close by year’s end.

“The Lehrers’ tremendous generosity on behalf of the Music Academy and other community organizations is awe-inspiring,” said Music Academy Board Chairman James Davidson. “We are profoundly grateful for this latest gift, which will enable the academy to continue offering exceptional performance and educational opportunities for outstanding young classical musicians.”

Originally a tool and die maker, Seymour Lehrer founded a metal goods manufacturing company with Shirley in their native Los Angeles. The couple later enjoyed success in industrial real estate. Today, their Lehrer Family Foundation supports 25 local groups, including the Music Academy of the West and the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara. The latter honored the Lehrers in December for their philanthropic and volunteer efforts on behalf of that organization.

“This gift directly reflects our appreciation for the academy and its mission to train talented musicians,” Seymour Lehrer said. “We have long enjoyed seeing these young artists take decisive steps toward becoming tomorrow’s classical music standouts.”

In addition to an unrestricted gift of $1 million, and another $1 million to fund future facility upgrades at the Music Academy, the Lehrers have offered a $1 million matching grant to close the academy’s campaign to raise funds for its recently remodeled recital facility, Hahn Hall. To receive this gift, the Music Academy must raise an additional $1 million by the end of the year.

Hahn Hall was completed just before the start of the Music Academy’s 2008 Summer School and Festival on June 23. Featuring vastly improved acoustics and numerous other enhancements, the building and associated site work were completed in 10 months at a total project cost of $15 million. Donors thus far have contributed $13 million to cover construction expenses, excluding the Lehrers’ challenge grant.

“It is our hope that donors will respond positively to this challenge grant, enabling the academy to wrap up its Hahn Hall fundraising efforts by the end of December,” said Seymour Lehrer, an Academy Board director since 2000.

In recognition for the Lehrers’ gift, the Music Academy will name Hahn Hall’s elegant entrance area Lehrer Lobby, and dedicate the 2009 Summer School and Festival to the couple.

The Lehrers previously donated $1 million to fund the creation of Lehrer Studios at the Academy. Completed in 2006, that campus facility features 16 acoustically designed practice studios, remodeled restrooms and shower rooms for use by Academy Fellows.

The couple also have participated in the Music Academy’s Compeer program since its inception in 1998. The program pairs Academy Fellows with Music Academy donors and other Santa Barbara community members for informal socializing throughout the summer season.

“The Lehrers have so clearly demonstrated their commitment to the Music Academy of the West,” Music Academy President NancyBell Coe said. “We are so thankful to count them among the academy’s most ardent supporters.”

Tim Dougherty is communications manager for the Music Academy of the West.

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