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Groundbreaking Sets the Stage for Next Generation of the Arts

On June 9, Broadway producer, businessman and alumnus Thomas Perakos ’69 had the honor of being the first to dig a commemorative shovel into the earth on the site of The Gunnery’s new Arts and Community Center during the official groundbreaking for the new building. Located between Teddy House and Emerson dormitory, the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center will showcase the school’s already vibrant Visual and Performing Arts programs and give them room to grow. It is set to open in December 2019.
There was a celebratory air to the event, which was held during Alumni Weekend, just before the start of the annual alumni parade, and the day before Perakos walked on stage at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, wearing his Gunnery alumni pin on the lapel of his tuxedo, to accept the award for best musical.

“I’m just so overwhelmed with everything that’s transpired this year. Words can’t express the joy of giving and the joy that’s in my heart to be able to bring this to a school that’s so close to my heart,” said Perakos, who is a producer of the “The Band’s Visit,” which earned a total of 10 Tony Awards on June 10. He is also a co-producer of the revival of “Carousel,” which won two Tonys, and he provided financial support for the Broadway revival of “My Fair Lady,” which won for best costume design in a musical.

In his remarks, Head of School Peter Becker announced the Class of 1968 would be commemorating its 50th reunion this year by donating the funds to name the community room in the new Arts and Community Center for Norman R. Lemcke P’84, who served as a Gunnery faculty member and Dean of Students from 1964 to 1975 and had “a profound impact on the class.” Perakos then surprised the school by pledging to match that gift – which Steve Baird, Rick Bernard and David Coburn of the Class of 1968 later revealed to be $500,000 – with the Class of 1969, to honor former English faculty member Wallace H. “Wally” Rowe III H’57 P’77 ’79.

Almost a decade ago, when Perakos returned to campus for his 40th reunion, he said he asked to see the facilities for the arts, which were then, as they are now, sprinkled across several buildings and locations. “At that point in time, I knew for sure that I wanted to be as diligent and unrelenting about trying to get this project underway and make it become a reality,” he said, “From my perspective, this is a tremendous game changer for the school. It takes it from the plateau that it currently competes on and brings it to a much higher level.”

Becker said the school has benefitted from Perakos’ intelligence, experience, passion and enthusiasm from the project’s early stages. “We needed someone to step up, we needed someone to believe that we could do something as audacious as this project, and frankly help us take a big risk. We have this tagline that we’re talking about a lot: ‘Think Fearlessly and Act Thoughtfully.’ What that’s really about is sort of informed risk, the type of risk that we want our kids to be taking as they’re students here and as they go out into the world as citizens. And if it wasn’t for Tom stepping up at a very particular point with a tremendous amount of generosity and saying, ‘I believe in this. We can do it. It’s the right project for the school at this time,’ we wouldn’t be here,” he said.“His engagement with it just shows the passion that he has not just for the arts, but for the school.”

“Part of what excites me about this project is the demonstration of what we can do as a school, as an alumni body, as a board, when we are all willing to dream big, take a risk and think about the future of this school,” Becker said.

The 32,000-square-foot building will include a state-of-the-art, 415-seat theater where the entire school can gather for meetings, guest speakers, performances and events. The theater will be named The Tisch Family Auditorium in honor of alumni Jonathan Tisch ’72, and Steven Tisch ’67. The center’s art wing, which will feature gallery spaces, classrooms and studios for drawing, painting, ceramics, graphic arts and photography, will be named in honor of alumni Richard C. Colton, Jr. ’60.

Additionally, the center will offer community and event spaces for multiple uses, choral and instrumental practice spaces, including a drum room, and a technical shop for building and assembling sets. As part of the overall project, a new quad will be created in the middle of campus, redirecting parking and traffic to the perimeter.

“I think the Arts Department is strong right now. We have students who are doing amazing things creatively,” Visual Arts Chair Andrew Richards said during the ceremony. “I’m really excited to see this project get underway.”

In her remarks, Performing Arts Chair Jennifer Wojcik, Ph.D., noted that she was happy to see her former and current students at the event, which provided an opportunity to “celebrate together what’s going to be the next generation of the arts for our school, for our family.”

“There are a lot of other people I want to thank for getting us this far,” Becker said, recognizing  S/L/A/M Collaborative, which designed the new building; O&G, the construction manager for the project; the Town of Washington, its land-use boards and the Historic District Commission, and neighbors of the school, who have supported the project, and Edgar Auchincloss ’82 P’12, Vice President of People’s United Bank, which has been a great partner of the school for many years.

Becker also recognized Gerrit Vreeland ’61, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Vice Chairman Jonathan M. Estreich P’06, who joined him on the dais and participated in the actual groundbreaking, for their leadership and support. He thanked the team at the school, including Chief Financial Officer Bill Zekas; Project Manager Michel Williams; Assistant Head of School Seth Low, and the Alumni & Development Office, and particularly Sean Brown P’21, Director, and Kiersten Marich, Director of Leadership Giving, for their tireless efforts to raise the funds for the project. “We’re well past $16 million toward this $22 million goal,” Becker said.

The project would not have been possible financially without Perakos and three lead donors who were unable to attend the groundbreaking: Steve and Jon Tisch, longtime benefactors of the school, who stepped up to provide the largest gift in the school’s history in May 2017; and Dick Colton, a patron of the arts and philanthropist, who expressed an interest five years ago in doing something for the visual arts at The Gunnery, and now the visual arts wing will be named for him.

The Town of Washington has a long history of nurturing and attracting artists and writers, who have perhaps been inspired by the same rolling hills and winding river valleys that surround The Gunnery campus. Painters, ceramicists, wood carvers, photographers, sculptors, dancers, poets, writers, actors and architects have all left their creative stamp on this quaint yet vibrant New England town. The school’s relationship with local arts organizations such as Pilobolus, Litchfield Performing Arts and ASAP! are only expected to flourish with the completion of the new Arts and Community Center.

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.