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The Community Foundation Blog


Donors support local theatre for lifetimes to come
By The Community Foundation / October 22, 2020
Donors support local theatre for lifetimes to come

Sara Belle and Neil November were significant patrons of and advocates for the arts during their lifetimes, with a special interest in theatre. At least seven theaters around Metro Richmond bear Sara Belle’s name in tribute to her and Neil’s tireless support — and through the Sara Belle and Neil November Endowment for the Theatre Arts, their giving legacy lives on. 


Photo credit: Chris Smith

To support smaller theatre arts organizations in the Richmond region, the couple started a flexible donor advised fund with the Community Foundation in 2006. After Neil’s passing in 2018 and Sara Belle’s passing in 2019, this fund was converted into an endowment fund, with clear guidance left by the Novembers as to how their funds would be used.

“Although Uncle Neil and Aunt Sara Belle may have never contemplated a pandemic with this level of economic devastation to the performing arts in this area, they certainly knew that the performing arts organizations struggle from time to time. That’s why they felt it was so important to establish this endowment, so there would be the financial resources available should an organization need it,” explained Pete Low, nephew of the Novembers and Trustee of both the Neilson J. November Irrevocable Trust and the Sara Belle November Revocable Trust.

One organization in need of support during this time, and the recipient of the November Endowment Fund’s first grant, is Swift Creek Mill Theatre. Like most performing arts organizations, the theatre had no choice but to close to the public during the first few months of the pandemic, causing a significant loss of revenue. Then in August, a flash flood left over a foot of water in the lower level of their building. With funds from the November Fund, the Community Foundation was able to provide a $25,000 grant to support the theatre’s flood recovery efforts.

“The launch of the November Endowment Fund for the Theatre Arts marks a new chapter in the history of theatre in Greater Richmond. As Swift Creek Mill Theatre works to recover from a devastating flood, amid a global pandemic, the legacy of Sara Belle and Neil November is realized, and the generosity has had a profound effect on our efforts,” said Steve Koehler, Managing Director for Swift Creek Mill Theatre.

“Even though the stages are dark, the classes canceled, and most theatres are closed, that doesn’t mean that these organizations don’t need to be supported.” Low said. “They still need financial support to pay the bills that don’t stop and the skeleton staff that is still required.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you can support the arts in the Richmond region, we’re happy to help. You can click here to make a gift to the November Endowment Fund, or contact Molly Dean Bittner, Senior VP of Philanthropic Services, for more information.

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