Jackson’s city auditorium has a history of brilliant and breathtaking performances spanning more than five decades. But Thalia Mara Hall, the home of the USA International Ballet Competition, among many other organizations, got a little down-at-the-heels. A facelift to make sure the space where artistic stars shine was just as stellar lead a group of private and public sector stakeholders to launch an ambitious renovation project.
Dedicated in 1968, the auditorium was a community effort to replace a former armory which then served as the performance hall for the capital city. Modeled on mid-century design principles, the building became a beacon of civic pride and community leadership. Named for the ambassador of ballet in Mississippi, Thalia Mara, the hall saw near-continuous use, despite aging city infrastructure, changing patron habits, budget concerns and expectations for amenities. By 2013, something needed to be done. That fall, a group of private and public sector stakeholders formed Friends of Thalia Mara Hall to raise funds to pay for much-needed renovations to this majestic structure. The quadrennial USA International Ballet Competition was scheduled for the following June, so not just money was the challenge. The timeline was just as much a factor in whether the renovation could be completed. The Friends of Thalia Mara established a fund at the Community Foundation, and within months, the group raised $1.5 million in private contributions. This impressive pool of charitable investments was added to a $3 million investment from the City of Jackson and $1 million in state bond funds to support the first phase of the renovation project – which was indeed complete just in time for the June 2014 USA IBC.
Using the Community Foundation saved time, as the only other option would have been for the Friends of Thalia Mara Hall to become a nonprofit organization – something which takes a lot of time and money, and was unnecessary for a project with an end date. It gave donors a sense of security that their donations would be spent only for the designated project, along with their tax deduction. Operating the “back office” through the Community Foundation also meant fundraising efforts could be concentrated on completing the project – not on overhead.
Best of all, this successful public-private partnership allows a jewel in the City’s cultural crown to glimmer again
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