PITTSFIELD -- Thanks to two of the county's most generous benefactors, the Berkshire Theatre Group has obtained a significant endowment that will provide the organization with financial stability.
BTG, which operates the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, has received a 10-year, $5 million endowment pledged by the Feigenbaum Foundation, an organization founded by brothers Armand and the late Donald Feigenbaum of Pittsfield.
BTG President Ruth Blodgett said the funds "will help sustain [the theater] and its artistic, economic and educational impact on future generations," during a celebration at the Colonial on Friday.
"We are humbled by this honor and it strengthens our resolve to build upon this mission for our community," Blodgett said.
The Feigenbaums, who established the global company General Services Corp. in Pittsfield, have donated millions to Berkshire County-based institutions through their foundation, which they established in 1988. They include the Berkshire Museum and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Donald Feigenbaum died in March 2013.
BTG Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire said the organization will receive the funding from the Feigenbaum Foundation in annual $500,000 increments over the next decade. But BTG won't be able to access the interest or principal from any of that funding until it reaches the $5 million mark, said Feigenbaum Foundation President Emil J.
"It helps the theater in that it provides a future of stability," Maguire said during an interview in her office at the Colonial on Thursday. BTG officially announced the acceptance of the endowment at the theater on Friday afternoon, in which stars bearing Donald and Armand Feigenbaum's names in the Colonial's main walkway were officially unveiled.
"It's nice to know that you have that income to count on," Maguire said. "Everyone talks about securing an endowment and now the Feigenbaums have given us a way to do that."
Maguire said BTG is planning to launch a major fundraising effort to both build on the endowment and expand the performing arts and educational capabilities of the organization's five stages.
"What I'm working on with the board is mounting a challenge campaign," Maguire said, "and asking the community to join the Feigenbaums in enriching our operations.
"We need to make sure that we stay on the path to get to this bright future that the Feigenbaums have provided for us. The day-to-day challenges are still going to be with us. I think what this gift shows is an extraordinary faith in our ability to get there."
George referred to the foundation's pledge as a method to "jump-start" the BTG's endowment.
"It's not a panacea," he said.
During the event at the Colonial, George said he and the late Bernard "Bud" Riley hammered out the structure of the arrangement last summer shortly before Riley's death.
"You can keep giving money where it's needed, but you never really get a solid foundation," George said. "The brothers' philosphy was get people invested in your gift. This is how they would have wanted it."
The endowment is not specified for a specific purpose. Maguire said it will be used to create the Feigenbaum Center for the Arts at the Colonial Theatre, which will expand the organization's work in creative arts programming.
Those initiatives include school trips to the BTG's five performing arts spaces, and programs that reinforce classroom curriculum and community productions that allow adults and children in the Berkshires to share their talent and creativity.
BTG plans to erect a concrete sign with the words, "The Feigenbaum Center" which will be placed over the glass doors on the brick building that serves as the Colonial's main entrance on South Street. The sign should be in place within the next month, Maguire said.
The BTG was formed in June 2011 when the Colonial Theatre officially merged with the 86-year-old Berkshire Theatre Festival. The 111-year-old Colonial, which reopened in 2006 following a $21.6 million renovation, had experienced net income losses in two consecutive years of filings with the federal Internal Revenue Service before the merger occurred.
"The Colonial is one of the most important institutions in Pittsfield," George said. "It really changed the game and made Pittsfield a major player in the Berkshire County arts scene at a time when Pittsfield was reeling from the loss of its major employer.
"Every major arts institution needs an endowment, and [the Colonial] needed it from day one."
Speaking on behalf of the foundation, George said, "we decided that this is what we wanted to do."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: