Richardson Jackson, Spelman class of ’74 and Jackson, Morehouse class of ’72, donated $5 million towards the renovation of the Spelman John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts building, where they first met as students and aspiring actors.
In addition to their gift, Richardson Jackson and Jackson reached out to other donors including George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, friends of the couple who contributed $10 million, Bank of America as well as descendants of John D. Rockefeller donated $2 million and $300,000 respectively, bringing the total funds to $17.3 million.
WIth asbestos, poor ventilation, lack of handicap accessibility, outdated theater dressing rooms, and bathrooms, the 57-year-old building is desperately in need of a total update.
Aku Kadogo, chair of the Theater and Performance Department, said plans for renovating the building have been in the works since he first arrived.
“Renovation talk has been going on since I arrived at Spelman over seven and a half years ago,” Kadogo said. “You don’t really believe it until you see it, so I’m excited that this is happening.”
Arthur E. Frazier III, Spelman’s director of facilities management and services, also said that plans to renovate the building have been in place for decades but they didn’t become a priority until Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, who originally came to the college to consult on the possibility of renovations, became president of the school.
Originally, the school planned to build a brand new facility to house all of the performance art disciplines under one roof. Eventually, the administration decided to construct a new building, the Center for Innovation and the Arts, designed by Studio Gang Architects along with Atlanta-based Goode Van Slyke Architecture, as well as renovate the existing theater in the John D. Rockefeller building, preserving its history and ensuring students get an updated facility.
According to Frazier, none of this would have been possible if not for Richardson Jackson taking an interest in the project.
"Richardson Jackson expressed an interest in seeing the Baldwin Burroughs Theater in the Rockefeller building improved,” Frazier said. “One of the initial conversations I had with her happened to be on her 40th wedding anniversary. She shared that she and Sam met for the second time in that building. It has a special place in their hearts.”
With a concrete plan in place and a substantial renovation budget, “entire theater and stage while also expanding the lobby, both horizontally and vertically. Additionally, an elevator will be installed to ensure access for people with disabilities, and the restrooms and dressing rooms will be updated.”
Kadogo expressed his excitement about the future of the facility.
“We’re all excited that renovations are happening, but we’re really at the beginning,” he said. “Truthfully, it’s more of a hardship at the moment because we’re operating in temporary spaces. It’s an endurance test, but we’ve just got to be positive going forward.”
Upon completion of the renovation and in honor of their donation, the theater, lobby, and dressing rooms will be renamed the LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson Performing Arts Center.