Florida Studio Theatre Receives $4 Million Challenge Gift For New Arts Plaza

All pledges towards the “McGillicuddy Circle of Friends” received after April 1, 2024, will be matched.  

By: Apr. 24, 2024
Florida Studio Theatre Receives $4 Million Challenge Gift For New Arts Plaza
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Florida Studio Theatre has announced the generous challenge gift from Ed and Susan Maier of $4,000,000 toward the Arts Plaza. Mr. and Mrs. Maier have  proposed that their challenge gift be used as a “one-to-one matching fund” to create a “circle  of friends” to name the Arts Plaza in honor of Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy. All pledges towards the “McGillicuddy Circle of Friends” received after April 1, 2024, will be matched.  

The challenge gift serves to help complete Phase 1 of the Arts Plaza project which includes  construction of the 8-story building, opening the parking garage, and opening three stories of  Artist Housing. The Ed and Susan Maier generous match challenge fund will position FST to break ground on schedule in December 2024. 

Ed and Susan Maier had previously contributed $2 million towards the Arts Plaza, and the Maier  Cabaret will be named in recognition of that gift. The Arts Plaza was originally named The  Mulva Arts Plaza in recognition of the leadership gift made by Pat and Mary Mulva. However,  the Mulvas informed the theatre in January that they were going to relocate to Texas to be  closer to family. On March 4th of this year, they surprised everyone at FST’s 50th Anniversary  Shindig by announcing that they were donating the naming rights of the building and the  Mainstage Theatre back to FST. It was at this event that the Maiers were inspired to make an  additional gift in recognition of the McGillicuddys. 

Mr. Maier speaks to the selfless contribution on behalf of himself and his wife, Susan Maier  stating, “I’m not sure Susan and I would have done this had the Mulvas not given up the naming  opportunity. We wanted to make sure that Dennis and Graci received the proper recognition  for all that they have done for Florida Studio Theatre for the last 33 years.” 

Richard Hopkins, Producing Artistic Director, speaks to the timeliness of these back-to-back events, “The generosity of the past few weeks has been humbling. When the Mulvas first told  us that they were relocating to Texas for family, we never expected them to relinquish their  naming rights. It should not have surprised us, as they have been so generous since they first  arrived on our doorstep and continue to be deeply committed to seeing this project come to  fruition. They saw the naming rights as one last gift they could make to FST before leaving to  help us reach our goal. No sooner had they announced their intention from the stage at our  50th anniversary Shindig then Ed stopped me in the lobby saying, ‘let’s meet’.”  

It was in that meeting that Mr. Maier proposed the idea of a match for the naming of the  building, not in his name, but in the McGillicuddys. The McGillicuddys are FST’s longest  supporters and have made leadership gifts in every major capital campaign since becoming  involved in the 1980s, including $2 Million towards the Arts Plaza. It was Graci McGillicuddy 

who first connected with the theatre as a board member for the original “Friends of Florida  Studio Theatre.” She introduced Dennis to the theatre, and he joined the board of Trustees in  1990. Dennis McGillicuddy has served as President of the Board of Trustees since 1991. As  Board President he has guided the theatre’s board from a small professional theatre into one of  the largest theatres in the Southeast reaching over 225,000 attendees a year. Under his tenure  FST has launched multiple capital expansion campaigns and grown from a single theatre housed  in the Historic Woman’s Club to a 5-theatre campus in the heart of downtown Sarasota. 

In response to the Maiers’ commitment, the McGillicuddys said, “First of all, we want to say  directly to Ed: ‘Thank you for your selfless philanthropy. Your gift represents such a deep  commitment to and belief in Florida Studio Theatre and its significant contribution to making  our community the wonderful place that it is.’ When we first learned that Ed chose to have his  leadership gift reflected in naming the Arts Plaza after us, we both were brought to tears and  felt a deep sense of humility. FST has been such an integral part of our lives here in Sarasota  and to be honored in such a way has touched us to our core!” 

FST’s Arts Plaza has been designed to meet a wide range of FST’s artistic needs while serving its robust and growing audience. This state-of-the-art building will be nestled amongst FST’s existing five-theatre campus in downtown Sarasota. This necessary next step in FST’s story will  take the theatre to new heights, all while laying the groundwork for a strong future. 

Arts Plaza Features 

• A new mainstage theatre to allow for expansion of the Mainstage and Stage III Series. • Two new cabaret theatres to accommodate growing audience demand. • Extended-stay studio apartments for FST’s visiting guest artists. 

• Affordable housing for Sarasota’s year-round arts workers. 

• Secure and convenient parking spaces for FST’s growing audience. 

With lead gifts from Patrick and Mary Mulva ($6 Million); Ed and Susan Maier ($6 Million);  Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy ($2 Million); Anonymous ($2 Million); Jack and Priscilla Schlegel  ($2 Million); Carol B Williams ($2 Million); Anonymous ($1 Million); Bob and Wendy Grady  ($500 Thousand); Carolyn Ann (late) and Doug Holder ($500 Thousand); Arnold Simonsen  Family Charitable Foundation ($500 Thousand); Charles O. Wood, III & Miriam M. Wood  Foundation ($500 Thousand), along with the support of many others, the Arts Plaza will  become the final piece of FST’s vibrant downtown campus. 

Managing Director, Rebecca Hopkins, says, “This gift gets us much closer to our goal, but  beyond that it has such heart connected to it. Ed’s recognition of the impact that the  McGillicuddys have made on FST is extraordinary. This gift will give this project the momentum  it needs to make this building a reality and allow us to reach our goal of breaking ground at the end of this year.” 

Richard Hopkins says, “This is a wonderful opportunity, but this gift is not realized unless we  raise another 4 million dollars. Now is the time for donors to double their investment in FST.  For every dollar they give, Ed Maier will match it with another dollar up to 4 million dollars. I  hope our audience and the public will step up to meet this challenge.”

He adds, “This building will provide a true artistic home for our artists and will be buzzing with  creativity. The top three floors will be filled with actors busy learning their lines, honing their  actions, and building their characters. The designers will be brushing their renderings with the  final shades of color for the costumes and sets that grace FST’s stages. On the bottom two  floors, 3 new theatres will allow FST to continue to expand to reach the needs of our growing  audience. This will be the center of the FST campus. This is the place where theatre lives and  breathes.” 

For more information or to make a contribution in support of the Maier Match Challenge for  the “McGillicuddy Circle of Friends” contact Melody Mora-Shihadeh, Director of Individual Giving, at (941) 366-9017 at extension 326, or by email at Melody@floridastudiotheatre.org. 


Known as Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre was founded in 1973 by  Artist Jon Spelman. Starting out as a small touring company, FST traveled to places such as  migrant camps and prisons. The company then acquired the former Woman’s Club building,  becoming the first permanent venue. Shortly after Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins  arrived, the building was purchased and renamed The Keating Theatre. In the years that  followed, Florida Studio Theatre established itself as a major force in American Theatre,  presenting contemporary theatre in its five theatre venues: the Keating Theatre, the  Gompertz Theatre, the Parisian style Goldstein Cabaret and John C. Court Cabaret, and  Bowne’s Lab Theatre. 

Even with its growth, Florida Studio Theatre remains firmly committed to making the arts  accessible and affordable to a broad-based audience. FST develops theatre that speaks to our  living, evolving, and dynamically changing world. As FST grows and expands, it continues to  provide audiences with challenging, contemporary drama and innovative programs.


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