New London's Garde Arts Center Honored At League Of Historic American Theatres 2022 National Conference; Community Award-Sharing Ceremony To Be Held August 25

The League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT), the nation’s leading historic theatre advocate, recognized outstanding achievement within the industry when it announced New London, Connecticut’s Garde Arts Center is the 2022 Outstanding Historic Theatre in America at its 41st Annual National Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

The LHAT National Conference, presented in different cities each year, is the largest gathering of historic theatre professionals nationwide. The conference took place in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Arts District, home to five historic theatres and the biggest performing arts center in the U.S. outside of New York City. 

This year’s conference focused not only on the preservation, restoration, and operation of historic theatres, but also on the role arts organizations play in the ongoing conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, which the conference highlighted with presentations from Cleveland Public Theatre as well as Karamu House, recognized as the oldest, producing African American theatre in the nation.

The Garde Arts Center took home the 2022 Outstanding Historic Theatre Award during the conference which was attended by over 300 historic theatre operators and service providers from across North America and the United Kingdom. The nominating committee consisted of former LHAT Board Presidents and leaders in the industry. Nominations were accepted from across the nation, representing some of America’s finest performing arts venues and film houses. Past winners include New York’s City Center, The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. 

“The 1926 Garde Arts Center stood out among an impressive list of nominations to claim the award this year,” said Ken Stein, LHAT President, and CEO, as he presented the award to Garde Arts Center’s Executive Director, Steve Sigel. “While there were many reasons the Garde was worthy of the award, our judges were particularly impressed with how connected the theatre was to almost every aspect of its community,” Stein continued. 

The Outstanding Historic Theatre Award is given each year by LHAT to a historic theatre that has demonstrated excellence in community impact, quality of programs and services, and quality of physical restoration. “It was apparent to the League that the Garde’s impact was greater than some of the much larger organizations that were also nominated. New London is very lucky to still have its treasured historic theatre,” Stein added.

In addition to receiving the award, Sigel and Curtis Goodwin, Garde Director of Youth and Community Engagement, co-presented two educational sessions of “Those People,” highlighting how the historic theatre and youth arts activists transformed the community of New London.  The program featured segments from the award-winning documentary film Those People about the ten-year journey of the New London Talent Show at the Garde. 

Attending the session was Tony F. Sias, President, and CEO of Karamu House, who later announced to the conference that the Garde was a preeminent example of how a historic theater supports and involves youth and underrepresented populations.     Sias also had a poignant moment where Sigel introduced him to long-time Garde supporter and New London resident Dr. Lynda Smith, a Cleveland native, who attended Karamu House throughout her youth.  Dr. Smith, a member of the Board of Directors of The Day newspaper who co-produced the film, encouraged the theater leaders to increase their efforts to broaden their audiences and diversify their staff.

 “I was both proud and overwhelmed with the significance of this award for the Garde,” Goodwin said, “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.”

In addition to Dr. Smith and Goodwin, accompanying Sigel was Jeanne Sigel, Marketing and Development Director, Heather Flynn, Box Office Manager, Sophie Walsh Production Manager, and Wesley Reilly, Technical Director.

“This award was especially meaningful for me,” said Sigel. “Since 1988 the League of Historic American Theatres has been our best source for help and guidance for every major Garde achievement. I am humbled that the Garde’s accomplishments received such gracious acknowledgment from directors of major American theaters many of whom were my mentors.” 

The Garde Board of Trustees will be hosting a public Garde Award-Sharing Ceremony is anticipated to be held at the Garde on Thursday, August 25 at 7 pm.  The reception will include images from the Garde’s history on the giant screen, a preview of the Garde’s plans as it approaches its centennial in 2026, and special honorary speakers,  along with refreshments and photo opportunities with the Garde award statuette.

Garde Board President Philip Michalowski stated that “this award truly belongs to all the patrons, staff, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, donors, and community leaders who have supported the Garde Arts Center since it was created 37 years ago.   We look forward to sharing the honor with them on August 25.”