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SDHDF purchases Diversionary Theatre building

SAN DIEGO, California -- San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF) recently announced it purchased the University Heights-based Diversionary Theatre building, which is located at 4545 Park Boulevard and also houses Lambda Archives, for $1.2 million.

Leaders of the 29-year-old theater described the purchase as a godsend that will alleviate mounting financial woes, while SDHDF described the purchase as a commitment to local LGBT arts and culture, as well as a sound investment in a valuable piece of San Diego property.

The arrangement, led by SDHDF, which provides investments and grants supporting LGBT initiatives and institutions in San Diego, will ultimately eliminate all rental costs for Diversionary for the foreseeable future and give Lambda Archives assurance in the long-term viability of the space. Through funds created by the deal, upkeep of the building is expected to improve considerably as well.

Diversionary Board President Todd Nelms said the LGBT-centric theater faced growing financial challenges that often distracted from Diversionary’s mission to produce critically acclaimed theater. While SDHDF has aided Diversionary and Lambda in the past with their matching grant funds program, they haven’t done anything close to this scale supporting the nonprofits.

The deal could not have been reached at a more opportune time for Diversionary. For the last several years, the nationally acclaimed theater has weathered years of financial uncertainty and leadership changes, which culminated at a strategic planning conference held in 2013, at which time Diversionary’s board and staff were presented with three stark options.

Option one was to shut down for six months, fire all staff and then rebrand the theater. Option two was to find another struggling local theater without a physical space and merge with them. Option three was to continue on as long as financially possible without any major changes.

“All those things kind of caught the board off guard, and over the next two or three months things sort of deteriorated with our executive director,” Nelms said.

After the previous executive director resigned, Nelms, who had just joined the board as treasurer two years prior, became the theater’s interim artistic director. He and the board began getting creative about how the theater could succeed financially. They got thrifty with constructing sets, surveying donors for ideas and creating a more transparent communication policy with the community. He said their donations began “skyrocketing.”

“We came up with our own option four,” he said.

Part of this involved figuring out how to hire a new executive artistic director without bogging him or her down with Diversionary’s financial challenges, and to allow the new leader to focus on what Diversionary is known for: theater.

Enter SDHDF.

Read the full story on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego HERE.