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OSF gets $4.5 million gift

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, already one of the largest theater companies in the United States with a $44 million operating budget, just got a 10% raise.

Roberta “Bertie” Bialek Elliott, a philanthropist who has served on the Ashland-based festival’s board of directors, has given an unrestricted gift of $4.5 million, outgoing Artistic Director Bill Rauch said Tuesday. Elliott, of Carmel, California, is a co-founder of the Berkshire Foundation and sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway.

By theater standards, it’s a substantial gift. When Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre received an anonymous, unrestricted $7 million gift in 2018, Teresa Eyring, executive director of the national theater organization Theatre Communications Group, said that “a multimillion-dollar gift for any theater of any size is remarkable.”

Rauch said Elliott’s gift was prompted by his impending departure for a new job in New York City and the arrival of the festival’s sixth artistic director, Nataki Garrett.

Elliott “wanted to honor my 12 years of service and wanted to launch Nataki Garrett’s tenure on as firm ground as she could,” Rauch said. “She’s very excited about Nataki and she’s appreciative of all that the festival has done in these past 12 years.”

“She’s been very generous with the company over the years,” Rauch said of Elliott. “She deeply loves and gets what the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is about.”

Elliott was among a group of festival supporters who made a $4.5 million donation in 2012 to secure the naming rights to what is now the Thomas Theatre, the festival’s 360-seat black box theater.

While Elliott is not requiring the festival to match her latest gift, “we are going to challenge ourselves to raise money to match it and to really use those resources as a kind of transformational investment in the organization as we pass the baton from myself to Nataki, as we continue to deal with the challenges of wildfire smoke,” Rauch said. He said the festival plans to use the gift over three fiscal years to strengthen its marketing, development and human resources departments.

The gift “will really position the company to be in an even stronger position financially,” Rauch said.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 season, which opened at the start of March and continues through late October, follows a 2018 season plagued by wildfire smoke that forced the cancellations of 26 performances and ended with $2 million in losses and 16 layoffs.

Roberta “Bertie” Bialek Elliott, a philanthropist who has served on the Ashland-based festival’s board of directors, has given an unrestricted gift of $4.5 million. Photo by Kim Budd