OSF awarded $10 million grant over five years

The historic "America's First Elizabethan Theatre" sign welcomes visitors to Oregon Shakespeare Festival's landmark outdoor theatre. Graham Lewis photo
November 16, 2022

Hitz Foundation grant to help support theater while recovers from impacts of COVID-19, Almeda Fire

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival celebrated the first day of 2023 season ticket sales on Wednesday — and announced a $10 million grant from the Hitz Foundation payable over the next five years to help OSF along the road to financial sustainability.

When theater-goers returned to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2022, the numbers were considered unsustainable but not unexpected, due to the Almeda Fire impacts and the COVID-19 pandemic that saw layoffs of 90% of staff and shut the theater down for 18 months.

In 2020, OSF and the Rogue Valley faced several challenges when the devastating Almeda Fire destroyed more than 2,500 homes in the valley — the destruction of which has had a significant impact on the organization’s access to affordable housing.

“Since returning from the closures, we have seen 46% of our audiences return,” says Executive Director David Schmitz, in a news release. “Though this percentage is healthy and commensurate with what others are seeing across Oregon and the country, it is nonetheless unsustainable for our theatre. The pandemic subsidy we received from state and federal governments was the lifeline we needed to get our first season going, but we will be reliant on philanthropic support to move us through the coming years of recovery as we seek to fill the giant hole created by the pandemic. We believe this recovery will last at least five years, and are immensely grateful to the Hitz Foundation for providing us with a launching pad upon which we will be able to build the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of the future, and attract other like- minded philanthropists to the cause.”

Diane Yu, OSF’s board chair, told Ashland.news in October that the organization was facing a deficit in the “millions.”

“The 2022 Season was a miracle, but we know that the recovery period will take time,” Yu said in a news release. “We are immensely grateful to the Hitz Foundation and hope that this will incentivize other individuals, companies, organizations and foundations to also contribute to the deeply meaningful work to which OSF is committed.”

OSF’s artistic director Nataki Garrett lauded the Hitz Foundation, a private family foundation, for its help in assuring sustainability for the organization.

“This generous gift comes at a critical time for OSF as we continue our recovery and lay the foundation for the long-term stability and success of this beloved theatre,” said Garrett. “I am deeply honored that the Hitz Foundation believes in OSF and the work we are doing here: bold theater-making intersecting with the digital realm; industry-forward inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility work; and centering artists as thought leaders and changemakers who transform culture. This grant will help us deepen our commitment to continuing this work for our artists, supporters and future generations.”

The Hitz Foundation, which was founded in 2000, and the Hitz family have granted almost $80 million dollars to over 200 different organizations in six major project areas, including arts, with a focus on Shakespeare translations.

“The Hitz Foundation believes in supporting meaningful work in the arts and trusting its leaders to make an impact in their companies and throughout their industries,” said Dave Hitz, chairman of the Hitz Foundation, who also serves on OSF’s Board of Directors. “OSF is helmed by two of the most exciting leaders in our industry.  I am passionate about Nataki’s vision to center artists and artmaking in all OSF does and am thrilled by the direction both she and David are leading the company.  Their unique skills and leadership will ensure that theatre will be accessible to anyone and everyone for generations to come.”

The foundation funded the OSF Play On! project, which has commissioned 36 playwrights to translate 39 Shakespeare plays into contemporary English intended for performance.

Source: Oregon Shakespeare Festival news release, previous Ashland.news reporting. Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news. Freelance reporter Lee Juillerat contributed to this report.

Nov. 17 update: Added quote from Dave Hitz, that he serves on both the OSF and Hitz boards, and information about the OSF Play On! project.

Nov. 18 update: Added more information about the Hitz Foundation and Almeda Wildfire.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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