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Pittsburgh Ballet Announces Public Campaign to Expand Campus and Endowment

As the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre announced Thursday it would be entering the public phase of a $20 million school expansion project as it prepares to end its 45th season.

So far, PBT has raised $13.6 million in an effort to expand its campus in the Strip District and Lawrenceville, grow its $8 million endowment by 50 percent and establish an innovation fund to keep programs and performances going.

In 2010, PBT purchased the former St. John’s Rectory in Lawrenceville and transformed it into student housing for 19 of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s 1,000 student dancers. The company will break ground this summer on a 14,000-square-foot building in the Strip District that will include two dance studios and a public health facility.

PBT Executive Director Harris Ferris said the new studios will address the company’s current space constraints: “not only for our school and professional training program, but also for community programs that bring people in from the neighborhood and throughout Pittsburgh to take dance, Pilates and other dance-related programs.”

Ferris expects enrollment to increase 40 percent over the next three years because of the expansion.

“This will come about in several different divisions – our summer program being one of great opportunity for expansion,” he said. “So, we’ll see about 400 more students coming in.

The growth will do more than educate dancers and entertain the public, according to Ferris. He said the new facility, which will be named after campaign co-chairs Carolyn and Bill Byham, will also keep the public in shape.

“There’s a huge value that the ballet offers with all the related disciplines surrounding dance,” Ferris said. “Whether it be Pilates or whether it be sports training, there’s a hunger on the part of the public to be moving more.”

PBT expects to have the $6.5 million building open in June 2016.

The $20 million campaign goal also includes a $2 million fund reserved for building maintenance and improvement.

About $4 million of the campaign is slated for the company’s endowment. Ferris said nearly $1 million has been raised for the endowment so far. This money will be used for scholarships, the acquisition of new works and the orchestra.

Another $3.4 million of the campaign will be used for an innovation fund that will cover ballet production costs, such as commissioning choreography and investing in sets and costumes, without raising ticket costs.

Ferris hopes the availability of ballet in Pittsburgh will lead to a new generation of dancers who, in turn, will inspire dance innovations.

“The inspiration of the public coming to see these performances can bring them into exposure to the art form at a lay-level and they can take classes,” he said. “There’s a mutually enforcing cycle here."

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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