Ashland residents donate $1 million to OSF

ASHLAND — The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced on Thursday that it has received a $1 million gift from Ashland residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod that will be used to support new works, education and a redesign of OSF's brick courtyard.

Half of the donation will be used to redesign the courtyard, which is known as The Bricks, while $250,000 will support OSF's extensive education programs and $250,000 will boost its development of new plays, OSF officials said.

"OSF is humbled by the generosity of Judy and Joel," OSF Executive Director Cynthia Rider said in a statement. "We are grateful for the support of OSF's education programs and the development of new work. The portion of the gift dedicated to the renovation of the brick courtyard will provide the seed money needed to reopen the design process. Judy and Joel's gift came as a surprise, and we are thrilled to be able to breathe new life into this project."

In 2006, OSF hired a local landscape firm to create a new design for the brick courtyard, but the reconstruction project has never been carried out.

Some users of the courtyard have raised concerns about its slippery and uneven brick surface.

In 2012, Ashland resident Philip Lang filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Medford against OSF and the city of Ashland, arguing that the brick courtyard was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city owns the property, which it leases to OSF.

That complaint was dismissed, although Lang has the option of amending his complaint, Rider said in an interview.

Rather than simply moving forward with the 2006 design, OSF will have the design re-evaluated because usage of the courtyard has changed over the past several years, OSF officials said.

For example, OSF moved its Box Office from a sloping, slippery area of the courtyard to the nearby Carpenter Hall building.

Rider said OSF has not had time yet to determine how long it will take to come up with a final redesign for the courtyard construction.

There is also no time line yet for on-the-ground work or an estimate on the cost, she said.

In the past, OSF estimated the cost at $800,000 in a long-range plan.

OSF has long wanted to reconstruct the courtyard, but has postponed the project for a variety of reasons, including a national economic slowdown in 2008 that led OSF to cut its budget and a costly cracked theater beam that had to be repaired in 2011.

In directing a large portion of their $1 million donation to the courtyard project, Shih and Axelrod wanted to give a gift that would benefit all of Ashland, Rider said.

The courtyard is home to many events, including OSF's popular — and free — Green Show performances that are attended by locals and tourists alike.

"It is an honor to be part of the OSF family," Shih said in a statement. "From the first time we attended a production here we were so impressed. We are delighted to be able to make a difference like this in our community."

OSF officials said Shih and Axelrod's donation will also benefit OSF education programs, which are among the largest of any theater company in the country.

More than 60,000 student tickets were sold in 2012 and 492 educational events were attended by more than 59,000 students, OSF officials said.

The education department offered 26 programs and 1,900 events for both students and adults, officials said.

In addition, each year OSF sends out six actor-teacher teams to schools throughout the West Coast and Kansas, officials said.

Rider said the donation will allow OSF to add new educational offerings.

The donation also affirms the value of OSF's commitment to developing new plays and musicals, OSF officials said.

During current OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch's tenure, OSF has greatly expanded its development and production of new work — including commissioning five new musicals and 21 projects for its American Revolutions series of new plays about United States history, OSF officials said.

Rider said the large donation will allow OSF to fund more developmental work and move forward on projects that might not otherwise proceed.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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