Britt gets largest-ever grant for smaller stage

The largest grant in the Britt Festivals' history will go toward a new performance space on the music festival's Jacksonville grounds, Britt officials say.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust donated $200,000 contingent on Britt rounding up full funding for the $823,000 project.

Britt has been working with the trust for more than a year, Britt Executive Director Donna Briggs said.

"We're pretty excited about it," she said.

The new space would replace the Table Rock Cafe stage on the hillside above the Britt Pavilion, near the concession area. It would host smaller concerts, including chamber music, jazz combos, acoustic music and family concerts, beginning with the 2013 season. It could be configured for cafe seating for 150 or theater seating for a larger number.

The entire project is subject to review and approval by the Jacksonville Historical and Architectural Review Commission. Briggs said Britt would submit the paperwork to the commission this summer and, with the commission's approval, could break ground as early as October.

Briggs said the smaller space would diversify Britt's programming opportunities, enabling the festival to present acts that don't pencil out on the main stage of the 2,200-seat venue, providing rental opportunities for outside groups and booking shows on "dark" nights" — times when there is nothing scheduled on the main stage.

It also would create a much-needed additional revenue stream for the festival in the form of rental fees, tickets and increased concession sales.

"There isn't a week that I don't get a call from somebody wanting to lease the stage," Briggs said.

But the main stage is large and expensive and makes modest turnouts look like an empty room. Britt recently had students from two of its educational programs, Farmer Jason and Rock Camp, perform there, and only about 100 people showed up.

Briggs said Britt plans to create a special concert series for the Garden featuring local and regional artists playing chamber music and jazz in the new space. The space also will be used for family concert programs, pre-concert talks before shows in August's Classical Festival, summer camp concerts, master classes and other educational events.

The project includes plans to bring the area in and around the new space up to the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act. For 50 years, many patrons with disabilities have been unable to get up the hill to the concessions area. Plans call for ADA-compliant pathways and lighting to the new concessions area as well as the performance garden.

The list of the project's other funders so far includes the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation ($50,000), West Coast Events ($50,000) and the Ben B. Cheney Foundation ($25,000). In addition, in-kind support (pledges of professional services) to date is $250,000. That leaves Britt with a bit less than $250,000 to raise.

A key part of that funding will be the "Pave the Way" project, in which patrons can purchase bricks and have them engraved for $250 or $500. The bricks, which can be bought at shows throughout the summer season, will become the new pathway to the garden area. Officials have another $50,000 in grants pending and hope to raise $75,000 through the efforts of board members and $75,000 more in in-kind services.

Briggs said the Ford Foundation also has asked for a full report on the project.

"They don't usually do that unless they're interested," she said.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at

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