Art

Alley Theater becomes Meredith J. Long Theater Center after grant

The Alley Theater will be renamed the Meredith J. Long Theater Center, in honor of the late, influential Houston art dealer and philanthropist who served as the theater’s longtime chairman. The change comes after an anonymous donor awarded the downtown theater a $25-million matching grant.

That grant becomes the largest gift in the Alley’s 75-year history. With an additional $25 million in matching funds, the combined total would be the largest gift in Houston’s Theater District history, as well.

Long served on the Alley’s board for 35 years. He was chairman from 1986 to 1993, and later chair emeritus and a lifetime trustee.

“I think he’d be very honored and very proud,” said Kenneth Kades, Alley Theater board president. “He was one of our most dedicated board members and loved seeing the joy, the cheers and the tears that came from live theater. He respected the craft.”

People ride their bicycles past the downtown Alley Theatre.

People ride their bicycles past the downtown Alley Theatre.

Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

When Long came to Houston in 1957, the city counted fewer than 1 million residents. There were only two art museums and three galleries back then. He set up Meredith Long & Co., an intimate gallery space first in Highland Village, then in River Oaks, to connect Houston’s old-moneyed oil families with a direct line to prestigious curators and artists in New York. Long personally helped cultivate the taste of notable collectors such as Fayez Sarofim, Isaac Arnold Jr. and Lynn Wyatt.

He and his wife of more than 50 years, Cornelia Cullen Long, contributed more than 100 works to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, including pieces by Mary Cassat, Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns, among others.

During his tenure with the Alley, Long co-chaired two of the theater company’s largest fundraising campaigns. The first raised $25 million toward renovation efforts following Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and created the 75,000-square-foot Alley Center of Theater Production. The second funded a $56 million renovation of the building at 615 Texas.

The $25 million grant will benefit the Alley’s endowment, Kades said. Funds from the matching grant will support artistic direction, capital reserves and repay some of the damage from Hurricane Harvey, among other initiatives. The gift supports the theater’s $80 million Vision for the Future Campaign.

An architectural detail at the Alley Theater in downtown Houston, a building considered part of the Brutalist movement in modern design.
An architectural detail at the Alley Theater in downtown Houston, a building considered part of the Brutalist movement in modern design.Amy Walton

“This kind of investment is just awe-inspiring, especially after the difficulties of Hurricane Harvey and the coronavirus pandemic. For performance halls and events, it’s been extraordinarily difficult,” said Michael Heckman, president and CEO of Houston First Corp. “We’ve been on the mend for a strong recovery from the depths of the pandemic and have come back more quickly than anyone expected. If you look at the World Cup and capital campaign at Jones Hall, our level of philanthropy has always been tremendous. It shows the ability of Houstonians to step forward and continue to improve their community in many, many ways.”

The Alley is a Tony Award-winning, non-profit theater led by artistic director Rob Melrose and managing director Dean Gladden. The Alley’s first home was a spot on Main Street, practically hidden at the end of an alley, hence the name it has carried for 75 years.

Each season, the organization produces up to 16 plays, which amount to roughly 500 performances across two stages: the 774-seat Hubbard Theater and the 296-Neuhaus Theatre. Approximately 200,000 theatergoers visit the Alley annually. Performances for the upcoming 2022/2023 season begin July 22.

“It’s really important that local and regional theaters are supported. In high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools, children don’t get exposed to the arts like they used to,” Kades said. “Having a theater like this is important to the vibrancy of the most diverse city in the United States. It solidifies our position in the entertainment world and speaks to how strong the Alley Theater community is.”

amber.elliott@chron.com



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