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Near West Theatre began as a summer youth theatre program under the name Near West Side Shared Ministry Youth Theatre. Stephanie Morrison, along with Rev. George Hrbek and Father Robert Scullin, co-founded the theatre with Godspell as our first production. Robert Navis Jr joined the summer youth theater program as the Musical Director in 1980.
Once on board, a leadership team of Associate Directors was established with Stephanie Morrison Hrbek and Robert Navis Jr. stewarding the organization for forty years. In 1982, the theater formed an Advisory Board under the leadership of Robert and Joanne Lewis to pursue funding for program expansion to become an intergenerational organization. As a result, Near West receives a seed grant from The George Gund Foundation to allow the theater to expand its programs to include adults.
The theatre’s name changes to Near West Side Community Theatre. NWSCT earned the Governor’s Youth Recognition Award in 1985. The organization formally changes its name in 1988 to Near West Theatre and in 1999, becomes an independent 501(c)3 organization and forms its first Governing Board.
Near West Theatre, Cleveland Public Theatre, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, Art House, and SPACES form the West Side Arts Consortium in 2002 and apply jointly to State Capital Projects Budget and earns its first $250,000 grant.
One short year later, NWT receives the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Community Development and Participation, the first-ever recipient of this award. In 2007, James Levin of Cleveland Public Theatre shares his vision to form the Gordon Square Arts District as a partnership between Cleveland Public Theatre, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Near West Theatre.
The Gordon Square Arts District (GSAD) Campaign is launched under Executive Director Joy Roller with Honorary Chairs Tom Sullivan, Dick Pogue, and Albert Ratner in collaboration with Councilman Matt Zone, Cleveland Public Theatre, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Near West Theatre.
GSAD was established as a joint capital campaign to revitalize the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood using the arts as the economic catalyst. The capital campaign spans seven years and raises $30 million, of which, Near West Theatre receives $7.3 million to construct a permanent home in the heart of Gordon Square Arts District.
Near West Theatre opened the doors of its new ADA-compliant, LEED Gold-certified, 24,465 square foot performance venue to the public on February 28, 2015.
Donations of all sizes create artistic opportunities for hundreds of youth and adults each year.
Become a Volunteer
Near West Theatre was founded on volunteer support, and it sustains us to this day. Discover the ways to get involved.
Every show, every program, every event is made possible by donors like you. Monthly gifts make a sustaining impact!
Our journey started with a big vision and a small seed. Over 43 years later, that vision has transformed thousands of lives and a near west side community.
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