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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 8:23 pm | Fair 54º


Music Academy’s Fundraising Campaign Ends on a High Note

Donations from local benefactors were instrumental in making key renovations possible.

Santa Barbara County continues to defy the nationwide trend of rapidly eroding support for the arts. The Music Academy of the West began its recital hall renovation fundraising campaign in 2001 with a goal of collecting $15 million to revamp its principal recital venue — then called Abravanel Hall, after world-class conductor Maurice Abravanel, who was the academy’s music director for its first decades of existence.

The renovations began quite soon, and the refurbished hall — now named Hahn Hall in recognition of the generosity ($6.1 million) of Stephen and Carla Hahn — was ready in time for the opening of the 2008 Summer Festival.

Paying for the renovations took a bit longer. On Aug. 7, $2 million short of its goal, the academy announced that Shirley and Seymour Lehrer had announced their intention to donate $3 million to the academy, including a $1 million challenge grant earmarked for the recital hall renovation fundraising effort. To receive the latter gift, the academy was required to raise an additional $1 million by year’s end.

Just nine days later, on Aug. 16, Music Academy Board Chairman James Davidson announced from the stage of The Granada Theatre that two donors had stepped forward to pledge $500,000 each, fulfilling the conditions of the challenge and bringing the campaign to a triumphant close. To make things perfect, the renovations had come in on time and within the budget.

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Hahn Hall was named in recognition of Stephen and Carla Hahn, who donated $6.1 million to the Music Academy of the West.
“I can’t think of a better way,” Davidson said, “to bring this outstanding fundraising effort to a close and to mark the end of another exceptional summer season.” With that, conductor Peter Oundjian led the Academy Festival Orchestra, the women of the Santa Barbara Choral Society and the Santa Barbara’s Children’s Chorus in the final concert of the Summer School and Festival: the Symphony No. 3 in D Minor of Gustav Mahler.

The two donors who met the challenge and put the campaign over the top were Montecito’s indispensable, incomparable Leni Fé Bland and another, who wished to remain an anonymous benefactor rather than be celebrated as a local hero. In all, 116 donors contributed to the campaign — not exactly a statewide grass-roots movement, but still a remarkable outpouring.

In addition to the $1 million matching grant toward the recital hall renovation fundraising campaign, the Lehrers made an unrestricted gift of $1 million, and donated another $1 million to fund future facility renovations.

The Lehrers previously had donated $1 million to fund the creation of Lehrer Studios at the Academy, a practice facility completed in 2006. In recognition for the Lehrers’ latest 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.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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