Newsmakers / Stephen Richard – Old Town man will help Childrens Museum grow


As a struggling playwright, Stephen Richard joined the Los Angeles Actors Theater in 1980 with the hopes of seeing his drama The Great Bandini on stage. I did whatever needed to be done, the Old Town Alexandria resident recalls. But a funny thing happened on the way to Broadway. As he recalls, I came to realize that I was better in the business and management side than writing. And I am very happy to do it.

This May, after 17 years with Arena Stage, currently in Crystal City, Richard has joined the National Childrens Museum as vice president of external relations. He is charged with leading the $130 million fund-raising campaign for the museum. It is scheduled to open in 2012 at National Harbor, as an anchor attraction for kids and families.

While Richard is also responsible for press relations and marketing, he said that fund-raising is his main task.

And a daunting task it is. How exactly does one go about getting people to give you $130 million, especially in tough financial times such as these?

Raising funds is a collaborative process, Richard said. We will have a staff of about ten working with me to do it. We get to know people, corporations and foundations to see where our interests and opportunities align. It is a process of finding people we hope to match with, whether they are interested in kids or the environment, which are both a focus for us. We are active in various community organizations and will be located at the National Harbor, so we will get to know people with those interests. We find them everywhere.

With so many causes competing for donations in a less-than-wonderful economy, the task may seem harder than ever. But, Richard said, Surprisingly, we have not felt a big effect from that. More likely, contributions are merely being delayed because of the uncertainty. I dont know what would happen if a recession went on for years, but I have not seen it yet.

As executive director of the Arena Stage, he launched the Next Stage Campaign on behalf of the Mead Center for American Theater, which has met nearly $108 million of its $125 million goal. With artistic director Molly Smith, he was responsible for obtaining the largest single donation ever made to a regional theater: $35 million from Gilbert and Jaylee Mead. As Arena CEO Mark Shugoll put it, The mark he has made will be etched in stone with the completion of the Mead Center.

Previously, Richard was managing director of the Pittsburgh Ballet Company for four years and of the Los Angeles Theater Center for seven, after it evolved from the Los Angeles Actors Theater. He has also taught arts management at Georgetown and George Mason universities.

Before starting his theatrical career, he had been working for a doctorate degree in American history. I decided I didnt want to do that, and I wrote The Great Bandini at about the same time. His play was about a famous magician with a conservative, conventional son. I realized I didnt want to be an academic, any more than he wanted to be a magician.

Still an avid theatergoer, he says that his favorite Arena production was A Long Days Journey Into Night. He also looks forward to future offerings, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep, which opened June 6. He said, It is hilarious, so I certainly plan to go.

He is an even bigger fan of his 16-year-old son Taylor and an animal-shelter-rescue beagle mutt named Tyson.