The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

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The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
The Bushnell outside high res photo.jpg
Former names Bushnell Memorial Hall
Address 166 Capitol Street
Location Hartford, Connecticut
Coordinates 41°45′45″N 72°40′49″W / 41.76250°N 72.68028°W / 41.76250; -72.68028Coordinates: 41°45′45″N 72°40′49″W / 41.76250°N 72.68028°W / 41.76250; -72.68028
Type Performing arts center
Capacity Mortensen Hall: 2,800
Belding Theater: 906
Built 1930
Architect Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts (formerly known as Bushnell Memorial Hall) is a performing arts venue at 166 Capitol Street in Hartford, Connecticut. Managed by a non-profit organization, it claims to be Connecticut's premier presenter of the performing arts.[1]


Horace Bushnell[edit]

Horace Bushnell was a giant of 19th-century intellectual thought. A Yale -educated minister and theologian, Bushnell was the reverend at Hartford's North Congregational Church for over 35 years – his one and only ministerial post. From his pulpit on Main Street, he emerged as a renowned theological leader and one of the founders of modern Protestantism. Beyond the church, Bushnell was respected as one of the great scientific minds of the time; he was an inventor with many patents to his name and was frequently consulted by scientists and inventors around the globe.

Locally, Bushnell is perhaps best remembered as a civic visionary and pioneer in the creation of urban green space. Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture, referred to his cherished friend, Horace, as "his prophet." Together, they discussed and developed the vision of urban parks as oases in cities which would promote social unity, encourage civil discourse, and provide "common ground upon which all men would be more conscious of being one man." In 1852, Bushnell's own design for Hartford's Central Park – one of the first two municipal parks in America -– was endorsed by the Hartford City Council. Twenty years later, the beautiful transformation fully realized, Hartford's Central Park was renamed in Bushnell's honor.

Dotha Bushnell Hillyer[edit]

Inspired by a 1912 visit to Springfield's new municipal auditorium, Dotha Bushnell Hillyer developed her own dream for Hartford. She envisioned a world-class performing arts center in downtown Hartford which would both serve as a memorial to her beloved father and as "a gift to the people of Connecticut.... A center for the benefit of arts, science and community activities."[2]

With uncanny savvy, she hired Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray two years before these innovative architects designed Radio City Music Hall—and sold her stock in December 1928—a brilliant stroke of market timing—to begin construction in 1929. In 1930, The Bushnell opened, being heralded as a "beacon of hope," in the midst of the Depression – such it has remained for over 80 years.

In addition to the Center, Dotha Bushnell Hillyer was also the principal benefactress of The Children's Museum in West Hartford and Hillyer College – which evolved into the University of Hartford. Dotha, similar to her father before her, left an incredible legacy – one that continues to live in the hearts and minds of all who benefit from their vision for a better Hartford.


The Bushnell was built in 1930 by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer as a "living memorial" to her father, the Reverend Dr. Horace Bushnell (1802–1876), a Hartford minister, theologian, philosopher and civic leader.

Mortensen Hall[edit]

The original theater building, Mortensen Hall, seats 2800 and was designed by the architectural firm of Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray, designers of New York's Radio City Music Hall. It was built with a traditional Georgian Revival exterior and rich Art Deco interior.

Named in honor of William H. Mortensen, The Bushnell's first managing director, Mortensen Hall is one of the world's greatest examples of the Art Deco style. Ancient images of the sun, moon and stars -symbolizing light, knowledge, constancy and eternity- abound in The Bushnell's beautiful main hall. Drama, the largest hand-painted ceiling mural of its type in the United States, is suspended from the Hall's roof by numerous metal supports. Painted by Barry Faulkner, the painting cost $50,000 to create in 1929.

The Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theater[edit]

This 906-seat theater, is named in honor of long -time trustee, Maxwell Belding and his family. A beautiful, state-of-the-art theater designed by Wilson, Butler, Lodge, "The Belding" was opened in 2002. The ceiling mural, created by Evergreen Studios of New York City, provides a dazzling modern interpretation of the original Hall's sun, moon, and stars Art Deco motifs.

The space houses a cafe, a gift shop, classroom space and more rest rooms. In addition, there are private dining and entertainment suites and reception spaces.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra performs at the center on a regular basis.

Bushnell in the Community[edit]


Originated by The Bushnell in 2008, The iQuilt plan is Downtown Hartford's exciting urban design strategy for walkability and creative placemaking. Now formally incorporated into Hartford's 10-year master plan, the iQuilt capitalizes on two of Hartford's greatest strengths: its extraordinary concentration of arts, cultural, and landscape assets and its exceptionally compact downtown.

The iQuilt Plan seeks to make downtown the "shared living room" for all citizens of Greater Hartford. In just four years, it already is proving a powerful magnet for investment and economic development, attracting over $60 million for public infrastructure and capital improvements to both public and private spaces. Working with the City, State and many partners, The Bushnell remains a leader in efforts to implement the plan and ensure that Hartford prospers as the region's dynamic urban core far into the future.

Neighborhood Vision[edit]

Over the past decade, The Bushnell has stretched beyond the traditional role of a performing arts center and emerged as a leader in thoughtful and creative development of downtown and of its own Capitol Avenue neighborhood, "our patch" of the iQuilt. In 2011, a separate nonprofit organization, The Bushnell Community Development Foundation, was formed to advocate for the interests of Downtown Hartford's cultural institutions and the diverse communities impacted by our neighborhood.

Our vision for the neighborhood includes the transformation of the State's 6.3 acre surface parking lots into a sustainable, mixed-use public plaza – an exciting public space, tentatively dubbed Connecticut Square – which will host festivals, markets and performances on nights, weekends, and holidays. Capitol Avenue development plans also call for green infrastructure, dynamic, new mixed-use buildings, enhancement of existing landmarks and innovative new ways to physically and programmatically connect cultural points of interest.

The Bushnell is committed to accelerate and sustain the creative evolution of the downtown, and to ensure its emerging sense of place as an exciting neighborhood that engages and delights its residents and many visitors. [3]

Community Outreach[edit]

The Bushnell is dedicated to promoting the inclusion of all people and organizations, including those who may not have the means to participate. Selected constituencies including students, the aging, hospital patients, impaired and financially disadvantaged persons receive special attention in The Bushnell's programs and services.

PASSPORT to the Arts is a fund established by The Bushnell to provide access, embodying three strategies to SHARE the performing arts with all.

Access for Individuals Barriers to attendance are any obstacles, including ticket cost or physical impairments, which prevent a person from enjoying The Bushnell’s programs. By removing these barriers, The Bushnell creates a clear pathway for individuals to have all-inclusive access to the arts.

Access for Organizations As the state’s largest Performing Arts Center, The Bushnell not only presents its own programs, but also provides a well-appreciated and professionally staffed home for many local group and organizations that require an appropriate venue to fulfill their own missions. PASSPORT will fund The Bushnell’s efforts to provide rental subsidies for use of its theater spaces at costs that are not unnecessarily burdensome to such organizations.

Access for New Audiences Attracting new, first-time audiences is central to The Bushnell’s vision for the future. Shifts in cultural and artistic tastes of theatergoers require The Bushnell to develop innovative programming and engagement activities that incite deeper, more impactful experiences. PASSPORT will fund The Bushnell’s experimentation, audience development, and artist cultivation, allowing The Bushnell the freedom to explore new programs.

Economic Impact[edit]

"The Bushnell is a cultural powerhouse pumping an 'energy flow' of exciting benefits – emotional, social, spiritual, and economic – into our community."

As a downtown arts organization, The Bushnell is truly an anchor for Hartford, supporting the local economy, contributing to the quality of life and increasingly helping to fashion Hartford as a destination for visitors, tourists and investment dollars.

Spending by arts and culture organizations and their audiences supports jobs and generate government revenue. Excluding the cost of admission, arts event-related spending in Hartford totaled $82 million in 2013. The Bushnell was the single largest contributor to that total providing:

$27.4 million worth of annual economic impact $6.9 million in the event-related spending on area hotels, restaurants, and other retailers by our audience members 836 full-time equivalent jobs $23.4 million in salaries, wages, and entrepreneurial income paid to local residents $2.5 million in local and state government revenue. Working with many other artists and arts organizations, The Bushnell seeks to perpetuate Hartford's position in the top 10% of all metro areas for cultural richness, and ensure the extraordinary "quality of life," which has long served as an enticement for development and a key factor in a healthy regional economy.

On Broadway and Beyond[edit]

More than a world-class venue for the performing arts, The Bushnell is also an active producer of shows not only for Broadway but also stages across the world, and for all audiences.

Elephant Eye Theatrical[edit]

In 2005, The Bushnell joined four other nationally-renowned performing arts organizations – Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Association in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust – in forming the producing consortium Five Cent Productions, LLC. Following this formation, Five Cent Productions joined former Disney Theatrical Productions Executive Vice President Stuart Oken and Tony Award-winning producer Michael Leavitt as a producing partner in Elephant Eye Theatrical.

Elephant Eye Theatrical is a theatrical development and production company that creates new book musicals for Broadway and beyond. The company finds and initiates projects, assembles creative teams, funds the genesis and ongoing evolution of the projects, and serves as lead producer when the projects are fully staged. While The Bushnell remains a presenting theater, producing new works allows us to have ownership, exclusivity and, ultimately, profitability from the projects we help create.

Elephant Eye Productions include Saved!, The Addams Family and An American in Paris, set to open on Broadway in April 2015.

Independent Presenters Network[edit]

The Independent Presenter’s Network (IPN) is a consortium of 40 of the leading Broadway presenters, theaters and performing arts centers, including The Bushnell. Its members bring Broadway productions to more than 110 cities throughout North America and Japan. The IPN has produced several shows on Broadway including Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Sutton Foster, The Color Purple, and Legally Blonde.

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