Aurora’s Paramount Theatre has been awarded its largest grant ever — a $2.5 million donation from the Dunham Fund that will help create a new school for the performing arts, replace every seat in the Paramount Theatre and modernize the Copley Theatre, Paramount’s 173-seat sister stage.
The so-named “Act 2” upgrade is a $4.5 million capital campaign and in total represents one of the biggest downtown development investments in Aurora history.
Former Aurora Mayor Thomas J. Weisner, chair of the Paramount’s Act 2 Capital Campaign, said during a Thursday (Jan. 25, 2018) press conference at Aurora’s North Island Center that the economic investment piggybacks on the Paramount’s recent successes, including award-winning Broadway shows that have brought thousands of people to downtown Aurora and filled the city’s restaurants and businesses.
“Dunham’s incredible support has been a key to the revitalization of the Paramount Theatre, helping spur its growth in just six years to capture the third largest subscriber base in the entire nation,” Weisner said.
Officials said the $4.5 million goal of the Act 2 Capital Campaign will support three major areas of expansion and improvement:
(1) Creation of the new Paramount School of Performing Arts in downtown Aurora in the new John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, currently under construction at the intersection of Galena Boulevard and Stolp Avenue, directly adjacent to the Paramount.
Slated to open in January 2019, the Paramount School of Performing Arts will encourage and train young actors, dancers and musicians for a culture-filled life, nurture the arts in Chicago’s western suburbs and add to the excitement, cultural and economic activity in Aurora’s downtown business district.
(2) The replacement of every Paramount Theatre seat through a dollar-for-dollar matching grant.
All 1,888 original seats have served more than 8 million visitors since the Paramount Theatre opened in 1931. Already through this campaign, Paramount patrons have donated funds for the replacement of more than 400 seats. Installation of the seats will begin this summer, and audiences can look forward to all new, larger and more comfortable seats thanks to the Dunham Fund’s matching grant.
(3) Modernization of the Paramount’s 173-seat sister stage, the Copley Theatre, located in North Island Center directly across the street from the Paramount.
Act 2 Capital Campaign funds will support much-needed upgrades and improvements in the Copley, built in 1981, including replacement of carpeting and seats, updating technical equipment, expanded restrooms, new heating and air conditioning systems and remodeled backstage and dressing areas. These improvements will boost cultural and economic activity even further in downtown Aurora, making the space suitable for smaller shows, as well as a debut venue for a new works program at the Paramount.
Weisner said support from the Dunham Fund will take both the Paramount and Aurora’s downtown to the next level.
“Adding a school of performing arts to our community will have an incredibly positive impact on Aurora area children and families for generations to come,” he said.
Wendy Hirsch, chairperson of the Dunham Fund, said every project the organization supports is worthy and deserving.
“However, there is no other organization that has impacted more people in Aurora than the Paramount Theatre,” she said. “The Dunham Fund is extremely proud to support the Paramount’s capital campaign with this ‘lead gift.’”
Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said that, since the launch of Paramount’s self-produced Broadway Series in 2011, the number of patrons has grown from 52,000 to more than 320,000 annually.
“Clearly, under the strong leadership of President and CEO Tim Rater, the Paramount is attracting more people to Aurora, and the theater continues to be both a critical cultural asset and a catalyst for growth and revitalization,” he said. “The Paramount School of Performing Arts will provide new opportunities for Aurora’s youth. It will encourage and train actors, dancers and musicians for a culture-filled life, further nurture the arts in our community and add excitement and vibrancy to our re-emerging downtown.”
View of the Future
Construction of the new Paramount School of Performing Arts is already well underway inside the historic former Waubonsee Community College building, directly adjacent to the Paramount Theatre.
The new performing arts school will be the anchor tenant in the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, revealed Thursday as the official name of the new $35 million, 80,000-square foot mixed-use development that will also bring a higher end restaurant to downtown Aurora, along with 38 affordable, loft-style apartments for working artists.
When complete, Aurora’s downtown will be able to boast of a live performing arts and education complex that fills a full city block, serves as an exciting new destination for arts and culture and powers the continued economic revitalization of Aurora’s downtown business district.
The apartments and restaurant will debut in the fall, meaning Paramount patrons can look forward to a convenient, upscale new location for pre- or post-show fine dining by the launch of the 2018-19 theater season. Bids are now being considered from top Chicago restaurant groups interested in managing the new restaurant space. Expect further details about the restaurant by summer.
The new Paramount School of Performing Arts will open registration in the fall and begin running a full roster of classes, private lessons and camps in acting, music and dance starting in early 2019. Courses for children as young as six months will be offered with opportunities for adults and seniors, as well. The school is committed to being accessible and affordable to all students, including persons with special needs and from low-income families.
Currently, construction crews are reconverting the basement and first floor to house more than 23,000-square-feet of private and group classroom space, parent lounges, a keyboard lab, a music recording studio and a 1,400-square-foot sprung floor dance studio.
About the Dunham Fund
In recent years, the Paramount Theatre has proven to be a catalyst for economic growth in Aurora’s downtown. The ripple effect has been profound: thousands of people have enjoyed award-winning Broadway shows in a landmark setting, and those patrons have filled the city’s restaurants and businesses. The Dunham Fund is proud to provide a $2.5 million grant for the support of the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center. The center will be the next step in the Paramount’s efforts to catapult Aurora to be the absolute best it can be.
John C. Dunham established the Dunham Fund in 1996. Dunham’s dream was to “make the world a more comfortable, safer place for mankind to live and prosper.” Since his passing in 2017, the Dunham Fund’s board continues to honor his life and tremendous philanthropic spirit through grants to Aurora-area organizations. His legacy lives on through the Dunham Fund, which today is the largest private foundation in the Aurora area. For more information, visit dunhamfund.org.
About the Paramount Theatre
The Paramount Theatre (ParamountAurora.com), 23 E. Galena Blvd. in the heart of downtown Aurora, is the center for performing arts, entertainment and arts education in the second largest city in Illinois. The 1,888-seat Paramount Theatre is nationally renowned for the quality and caliber of its presentations, historic beauty and superb acoustics.
Designed by renowned theater architects C.W. and George L. Rapp, the Paramount Theatre is graced with a beautiful Venetian decor and a strong 1930s Art Deco influence.
In just six blockbuster seasons since, Paramount has leapt to the top of Chicago’s musical theater scene, winning unanimous audience and critical acclaim, and an unprecedented number of Joseph Jefferson nominations and awards, including Best Musical-Large for the past three consecutive seasons. Today, more than 36,000 subscribers from throughout the city and suburbs enjoy Paramount’s Broadway-quality productions at highly affordable prices, making the Paramount the third largest subscription house in the nation.