City’s Zeiterion Performing Arts Center Receives $250,000 Bank of America Grant

Bank Takes Center Stage at the ‘Z’ with $250,000 Gift
By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Robert E. Gallery took to the Zeiterion Theatre stage Wednesday — the same stage that George Jessel and Rudolph Valentino stepped out on decades ago — in the glow of carefully staged lighting.
Unlike famous entertainers who preceded him and filled the downtown theater’s 1,200 seats for 85 years, Mr. Gallery was playing to an invitation-only audience of 60. Attired in a gray pinstripe suit and red tie, Mr. Gallery was not on stage to make the audience laugh or cry. He was, however, ready to make a strong impression.
Mr. Gallery, president of Bank of America Massachusetts, had the starring role in a presentation of a $250,000 grant to the Zeiterion. Despite a lack of tears or cries of “bravo,” there was much applause for the gift, the largest private grant to the Zeiterion in its history.
The supporting cast — Zeiterion Executive Director Katherine Knowles, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and Mayor Scott W. Lang — were effusive in their praise of Mr. Gallery’s performance.
Subplots also coursed through the performance. The Zeiterion hopes the gift by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation encourages other organizations to step up as contributors to the theater, considered by many to be the heart of SouthCoast arts and culture.
Bank of America also hopes the gift will positively influence current and potential customers, legislators and other public officials and regulators as it goes about the business of banking.
Mr. Gallery, whose office is in Boston but who has a second home in Mattapoisett, said the grant serves all three priorities that Bank of America has for gift-giving decisions: economic development, children and the arts. He called the grant a “triple-header,” saying it “touches all three.”
“Tell all your friends to join in. … We hope this helps to prime the pump,” Mr. Gallery said of the desire by the bank and Zeiterion to see other organizations support the theater.
“Our commitment to New Bedford is not unique,” he said, noting that the Bank of America Charitable Foundation gives about $200 million a year to many recipients. He said the bank is committed to New Bedford, and he checked off support for the whaling museum, symphony, the SMILES mentoring program, baseball clinics and affordable housing.
Rep. Frank noted that Bank of America’s presence in Massachusetts can be traced to mergers. Those would include Fleet Bank, BankBoston, Bank of Boston, BayBank, Shawmut Bank and the New Bedford Institution for Savings — all of which have been absorbed into Bank of America.
At the time Bank of America — whose headquarters are in North Carolina — bought Fleet, Rep. Frank recounted, some in Congress were concerned how communities such as those in Southeastern Massachusetts would be treated. He said Bank of America has kept its commitment to remain involved in community programs where it does business, and that is reflected in the grant to the Zeiterion.
Rep. Frank is one of the most powerful overseers of U.S. banks in his role as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Mayor Lang said, “Some of our most important allies … are in the financial community.” He said the gift is an investment in the “creative economy” of the city.
Ms. Knowles said, “All I have to say is many thank you’s. Only together can this be all that it can be … only as partners will we be able to do this.”
“It is amazing … I believe in saying yes … thank you for saying yes,” Ms. Knowles said.
The Zeiterion Theatre opened in April 1923 for the live performance of vaudeville. It has transitioned over the years from a live theater to a movie house, last known as the State Theater, then back to live performances.
In the early 1980s, it almost was demolished. It was saved by the Waterfront Historic Area League and renovated with more than $1 million, much of it from the state. The building now is owned by the city. Zeiterion Theatre Inc. is a not-for-profit that manages the building and programming.
Ms. Knowles said in an interview after the check passing Wednesday that the not-for-profit has an annual budget of $2.1 million and has tended to slip back and forth between small operating deficits and surpluses.
She said the Bank of America grant can help stabilize the organization’s finances and, it is hoped, “kick off a multimillion-dollar campaign.”
Although Bank of America has made no commitment for future funding for the Zeiterion and none is expected, Ms. Knowles said the $250,000 grant is the “beginning of a relationship.” The largest private grant previously was $50,000.
Contact Joe Cohen at jcohen@s-t.com
March 20, 2008 6:00 AM

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