Cleveland an Economic Model for the Arts. Wall Street Journal  5/4/2011

In Cleveland, a Model of Economic Viability in the Arts By JOEL HENNING, MAY 4, 2011 Cleveland Arts and culture is losing its market share of philanthropy,‖ according to the latest National Arts Index, published by Americans for the Arts. But several Cleveland performing-arts and public-media organizations are in better shape than their counterparts around the country because they are part of PlayhouseSquare, a unique business model in downtown Cleveland.

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Ray Shepardson Restoration Drama

Thanks to this production-savvy preservationist, historic arts palaces in dozens of towns are once again drawing crowds.

Publication: American Theatre
Author: Johnston, Christopher
Date published: September 1, 2010

Color Copy of the Magazine Article can be purchased here.

Ray Shepardson Restoration Drama - ONE NIGHT IN 1985 AT THE WILSHIRE THEATRE in Los Angeles, Ray Shepardson was roaming backstage ac a Shirley MacLaine show. He was there to say hello to the venerable star of stage, screen and television who had won an Academy Award for Terms of Endearment the previous year.

Shepardson was living in Los Angeles while planning and supervising the $5-miIlion restoration of the 2,300-seat Wiltern Theatre. That night, he was "playing it big time," he explains, entertaining several major agents and all decked out in his best suir and tie, replacing his usual work garir. sweat pants and T-shirt or runner's warm-ups. He had even earned the nickname "The Towel" because of the omnipresent towel draped around his neck to sranch perspiration in the hot, dusty environs of dilapidated historic theatres that he's made a career of restoring.

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40 years ago, a spark helps Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare find its way back to the lights

Thanks to the effort of Ray Shepardson, PlayhouseSquare is home to eight theaters, whose 10,750 seats attract 1 million visitors to more than 1,000 events a year, making it the nation's largest performing-arts center outside New York City.

Author: Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer

Sometimes it takes a lunatic.
Sometimes it takes a self-described "career professional giant pain in the butt."
Sometimes, in other words, it takes a Ray Shepardson.

He's the visionary who doesn't take "no," even back when the odds of saving a historic piece of Cleveland were slimmer than the flagpole atop the tower that symbolized the prevailing prognosis: Terminal.

Forty years ago today, on Feb. 5, 1970, Shepardson launched downtown's renaissance by initiating its first and arguably most successful restoration project: PlayhouseSquare.

He did it with an act so simple and so unheralded that there will be no parade down Euclid Avenue to mark it. In fact, executives at Cleveland's theater district were unaware of the day's significance.

As a functionary working for the Cleveland public schools, the mutton-chopped Shepardson was in search of a makeshift lecture hall that Thursday. He wangled a set of keys from a real-estate agent, the first of many to think the guy was nuts.

Shepardson -- who called himself "a 26-year-old farm boy from rural Washington state" -- unlocked the future by unlocking the doors of the State Theatre, a 1921 vaudeville house situated among three other 1920s venues along the desolation row that was Euclid Avenue.

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Ray Shepardson, Cultural Catalyst, January 1944

1985 Special Prize

Rather than take credit for his accomplishments, Ray Shepardson prefers to list all of the other people who played a role in them. Still, virtually everyone else involved credits him with saving one of Cleveland’s major landmarks. In fact, he is now frequently and affectionately referred to as the Patron Saint of Playhouse Square.

“Success has many fathers, so you’ll hear that lots of people started that project,” says Elaine Haddon, former President of the Junior League of Cleveland and first President of Playhouse Square Association. “Ray Shepardson started and saved Playhouse Square.”

Joe Garry, venerable Cleveland director of Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and former theater professor at Cleveland State University who was intimately involved with the effort to save the historic theater complex, considers Shepardson “the Pied Piper.” “Raymond had this vision of the theaters being restored, and he wouldn’t tolerate anything short of it,” he recalls.

Thanks to Shepardson and his group of influential supporters he enlisted from theatre and media professionals to community activists and major philanthropists, Playhouse Square was spared from demolition. Constructed on Euclid Avenue between East 14th Street and East 17th Street during the 1920s, the facility is now the largest Performing Arts Center in the United States outside New York City. After four decades of offering a diverse range of vaudeville acts, motion pictures, Broadway shows and other performances, the four theaters that comprise the main Playhouse Square complex – the Palace, State, Ohio, and Allen – had all closed by 1969.

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Fox theater's rebirth ushered in city's renewal

Detroit's Fox Theatre, site of the 2002 Fash Bash, is one of America's shining success stories. Rescued from decay in the late 1980s, the theater sparked creation of Detroit's cultural center.

By Michael H. Hodges / The Detroit News

September 18, 2003


Once she had many sisters -- the Michigan, the Adams, the United Artists, to name a few -- even if none quite compared to the Fox in size and gloriously ostentatious splendor. Today those other temples to popular pleasures are all shuttered, the elegant Michigan brutally retrofitted as a garage.

The Fox might have suffered a similar fate. TV and the rush to the suburbs beggared the once-proud dowager, leaving it by the 1970s reeking of urine and abandoned to all but Kung fu and horror-flick enthusiasts.

Today, however, the restored Fox is one of America's shining success stories. Last year the 5,000-seat Fox sold 642,000 tickets -- outpacing its larger rival, Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall, and clinching the title of "No. 1 theater in North America" from Pollstar, an industry trade journal.

"The Detroit Fox is the most spectacular, over-the-top movie palace ever built," said Ray Shepardson, the theater preservationist who oversaw the Fox's $12.5 million renovation in 1988.

"It goes way beyond gaudy and hits magnificence."

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