The Garde in New London receives national Outstanding Historic Theatre Award
New London — The Garde Arts Center has earned this year’s Outstanding Historic Theatre Award from the League of Historic American Theatres.
The honor was announced at the league’s national conference, which took place July 10-13 in Cleveland.
In presenting the award to Garde Executive Director Steve Sigel, LHAT President and CEO Ken Stein said, “The 1926 Garde Arts Center stood out among an impressive list of nominations to claim the award this year. ... While there were many reasons the Garde was worthy of the award, our judges were particularly impressed with how connected the theater was to almost every aspect of its community.”
Sigel said of the Garde’s getting the award, “I was thrilled.” He also was surprised, since so many historic theaters are in bigger cities and have bigger budgets and so on.
“They gave us the award for everything we’ve done but especially the way we’ve reached into the community,” Sigel said, noting the Garde is not just a roadhouse where touring artists stop in.
The award is meaningful, too, Sigel says, in that it values what a city like New London can accomplish but also how it can set a standard for accomplishment that others can follow.
The nonprofit LHAT, which was founded in 1976, now has more than 1,100 users representing 380 historic theaters and organizations. One of the co-founders of LHAT is Michael P. Price, former longtime executive director of Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam.
According to LHAT, the Outstanding Historic Theatre Award “recognizes a theatre that demonstrates excellence through its community impact, quality of programs and services, and quality of the restoration or rehabilitation of its historic structure. An award-winning theatre will have demonstrated excellence through significant achievement, the impact of its services and breadth of populations served, and the length of time and/or intensity of its activities.”
Previous winners have included such renowned venues as New York City Center and The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
To celebrate, the Garde board of trustees will host a public Garde Award-Sharing Ceremony at 7 p.m. Aug. 25 at the theater, 325 State St. The reception will include images from the Garde’s history shown on its movie screen, along with a preview of the theater’s plans as it approaches its centennial in 2026. There will be honorary speakers, and people will be able to take photos with the award.
The LHAT National Conference is the largest gathering of historic theater professionals in the country, and this year, it was attended by more than 300 historic theater operators and service providers from North America and the United Kingdom.
Sigel said that, since he first went to a LHAT conference in 1988, the organization has been the Garde’s best source for help and guidance for every major achievement.
“I think about half the room was first-time people ... I told them, ‘The body of knowledge you need to do well in your project is sitting in this room. It’s a family of people all over the country,’” Sigel said.
He noted that these venues, too, are main economic drivers for cities throughout the country.
During this year’s conference, Sigel and Curtis Goodwin, the Garde’s director of youth and community engagement, co-presented two educational sessions of “Those People,” the documentary about the New London Talent Show and how it affected the lives of the young people. The documentary was directed by Peter Huoppi of The Day and produced by Huoppi and Goodwin.
Sigel and Goodwin’s presentation at the conference focused on how the Garde and youth arts activists “transformed the community of New London.”
At that session, Tony F. Sias, who is president and CEO of Karamu House in Cleveland, which is the oldest African American theater in America, praised the Garde as a wonderful example of how a historic theater supports and involves youth and underrepresented populations.
Sigel ended up introducing Sias to Lynda Smith, a longtime Garde supporter who attended Karamu House when she was growing up in Cleveland. Smith attended the conference and encouraged the theater leaders to increase their efforts to broaden their audiences and diversify their staff. Smith is also a member of the board of directors of The Day.
Goodwin said, “I was both proud and overwhelmed with the significance of this award for the Garde and the impact our presentation ‘Those People’ had on leaders from across the country. This acknowledgment shows the power of the arts and the vital role institutions like the Garde play in shaping and empowering our communities.”
Also representing the Garde at the conference were Jeanne Sigel, marketing and development director and Steve Sigel’s wife; Heather Flynn, box office manager; Sophie Walsh, production manager; and Wesley Reilly, technical director.