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Monday, July 23, 2007

SF Weekly: Newsom To Save Black Theater

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2007 at 6:00 AM

"... while it's easy to see the Academy of Art as the bad guy in all of this, the Lorraine Hansberry's management might also be partly to blame for the mess. ..." By Chloe Veltman

If The Academy of Art University gets its way, David Drake's East Coast production of 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night, running from July 5 through 29, could be the last show at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's downtown premises. The last remaining black theatre company in California with its own stage, the Lorraine Hansberry's lease on the building runs out at the end of the month and the owner, the Academy of Art University, has an option to buy the space outright from the current lease holder, real estate company Sutter Taylor, and wants the space in order to fulfill expansion plans.

In the latest episode of the story, Mayor Gavin Newsom sent an email around last night to all the people who signed a petition to save the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre to emphasize his interest in helping the theatre keep its long-standing home.

"The Theater is a historic symbol of cultural and artistic values that make San Francisco unique and I fully support its continued operation," wrote the Mayor. "You will be happy to know, I am doing everything in my power to preserve the Lorraine Hansberry Theater. I have recently supported the resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors that included a moratorium on the issuance of permits and authorizations that would be necessary to shut the theater down. I am also negotiating with the Academy of Art University to create a new expansion plan that does not require the closure of the Theater."

For a good background on the eviction story, see Robert Hurwitt's June 23rd article in The Chronicle. It's an odd thing when two arts organizations fight in this way. Then again, The Academy of Art University is about as corporate as an arts organization can be. A for-profit career college dating back to the 1920s, in recent years, the Academy has expanded to occupy over 30 buildings in downtown San Francisco. With an enrollment of approximately 9,500 students, the Academy is reportedly the largest art and design school in the United States.

Here's hoping that there's strong intention behind Newsom's lip service. I signed the petition and am hoping that the theatre gets to stay in its present location. On the other hand, while it's easy to see the Academy of Art as the bad guy in all of this, the Lorraine Hansberry's management might also be partly to blame for the mess.

According to a July 1 article in the Chronicle, the theatre knew of the school's plans to purchase the building as far back as 2005. Back then, the theatre chose to forego the option of renewing its lease with real estate developer Sutter Taylor, receiving in exchange free rent of the space from 2005 until its lease expired. The Academy offered to help pay the relocation costs of the theatre company, while the school awaits information from the theatre about the costs of the move.

Once the matter is settled, the above debacle might very well make a great subject for a play.

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David Downs


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