'American Girl' Creator Commits $20 Million Youth Arts Center

'American Girl' Creator Commits $20 Million Youth Arts Center

Philanthropist Pleasant T. Rowland has committed $20 million toward construction of a planned youth arts center in Madison, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. 

Slated to break ground in April, the $35 million, 65,000-square-foot Madison Youth Arts Center will be anchored by the Children's Theater of Madison and Madison Youth Choirs and include offices, a common space, fifteen rehearsal classrooms, production and costume shops, a three-hundred-seat theater, a flexible performance studio, and a sensory-friendly classroom. An additional $5 million has been raised for the center, which is part of a larger development proposal that includes an eleven-story building with a hundred and twenty apartments, commercial retail space, and a parking garage. 

The idea of a youth arts center was sparked by the shortage of performance, rehearsal, and administrative office space that performing arts groups in Madison have long faced. According to Madison Youth Choirs artistic and executive director Mike Ross, acoustics will be much improved in the new facility and rehearsal classrooms will be large enough to accommodate parents. Plans for the building's use and tenants are still evolving, Ross added, and the next step is to learn more about local arts organizations' needs and how they might be able to use the center's resources after it opens in the fall of 2020.

"We're also having kids involved in the process, giving us feedback on the designs," said Children's Theater of Madison artistic director Roseann Sheridan. "[If] we think this is something kids are going to be interested in and will feel good to them — let's ask them what's important to them."

Rowland, best known as the creator of the American Girl doll brand — which was sold to Mattel in 1998 for $700 million — has given tens of millions of dollars in support of the arts and culture in Madison. In 2004, her husband, Jerome Frautschi, gave $205 million to fund construction of the Overture Center for the Arts, while Rowland established an endowment for its resident arts organizations.

"I think any philanthropist looks to see how many people its dollars will impact," Rowland told the Journal. "I can't think of a gift I could give that would impact more than this, in the arts and for young people. I think there will be a whole generation — generations — to come that will feed...the arts in the community."

Gayle Worland. "Madison Youth Arts Center Gets $20 Million Gift From Pleasant Rowland." Wisconsin State Journal 01/14/2019.