On April 23, The Frederick Gunn School community gathered to officially celebrate the opening of the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center. It was an exciting and historic day for the school, notable in that it allowed students, faculty, administrators, Trustees and alumni to honor and thank in person lead donors, including Trustee Emeritus Jonathan Tisch ’72 and Thomas Perakos ’69, and all who helped to make this remarkable, 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building possible.
Rabbi Andy Bachman P’19, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Project in New York City, who had spent the previous two days meeting with faculty and students on campus, provided a blessing for the building and all of those who visit, work and create in it. Board Chair Patrick Dorton ’86 read a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees in celebration of the building’s official opening and with gratitude for the donors who invested in it. Dorton then joined Tisch and Perakos in cutting the ribbon outside the main entrance. The moment was commemorated in an aerial photo, taken by a drone piloted by Marlon Fisher ’01, Associate Director of The 1850 Fund.
Immediately following the ceremony, guests attended a celebratory luncheon under a tent on the grounds of Conroy House, the home of Head of School Peter Becker and his family, and enjoyed special performances in the Tisch Family Auditorium by the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, Pilobolus, and the New Orleans Jazz Experience. The daylong celebration also included the opening of a new alumni art exhibit, curated by Andrew Richards P’20 ’23, Visual Arts Chair, and Lincoln Turner, Visual Arts faculty. The exhibit will remain on view through Alumni Weekend in June in the Perakos Family Cares Art Gallery, dedicated in honor of Wallace H. Rowe III H’57 P’77 ’79, a beloved teacher and coach from 1957 to 1979, who was in attendance with his wife, Carol P’77 ’79, and their children, Marshall Rowe, Waddy Rowe ’77, and Heidi Rowe ’79.
A revitalized arts program
While the opening celebration was originally planned for May 2, 2020, and delayed due to the global pandemic, “it was worth the wait so that we could have Tom Perakos here, Jonathan Tisch, and a few other really important people to this project,” Becker said in his opening remarks. “Our internal school community christened the building, which we affectionately call TPACC, in January 2020, when we held our first School Meeting in the Tisch Family Auditorium, followed by a school-wide gala a few days later. We did not know at the time that a global pandemic was bearing down on us and would prevent everyone else from coming together to celebrate the grand opening, scheduled for later that spring. But there is a silver lining: Instead of talking about what this building will mean, will do for our community, I get to share with you what it has already allowed us to do as a school, for our students, and for the town of Washington.”
“As we dreamed about a new building and a revitalized arts program, which became TPACC, we created a vision for the arts, with the hope of creating a program that asks students to learn to take public risks, to be makers not consumers, to be citizens who imagine a beautiful future without cynicism, to face failure with hope, and to develop rich community. That is what is happening inside of this amazing building,” Becker said, recognizing the incredible work of the visual and performing arts faculty — Richards and Turner; Ron Castonguay, Director of the Arts and Music Director; Kent Burnham, Director of Theatre Arts; Sarah Archer, Assistant to the Theatre Program; and the adjunct music faculty — who bring the arts alive on campus.
“From photography classes to jazz band to stage combat and ceramics-making, our students are taking risks, they are making art, learning to appreciate it, too, while learning how to navigate setbacks with the help of hope-filled and talented faculty. What is happening today, day in and day out in this building, is helping our students learn and grow, in big and small ways, lessons and friendships that will stay with them for longer than the time they spend at The Frederick Gunn School, and we have many of you here today to thank for helping to make this possible,” Becker said.
On behalf of the school, he expressed gratitude for the donors who invested in the building project and have given students and faculty the space to bring the school’s vision for the arts, and its hopes for the community, to life. Specifically, Becker thanked the 89 donors who donated seats in the Tisch Family Auditorium in honor of family and friends. He thanked the 18 donors who gave $100,000 or more, naming classrooms and practice rooms, and gathering spaces. He recognized the Class of 1968 who, in celebration of their 50th reunion, established the Norman R. Lemcke Community Room in honor of the late Norman R. Lemcke, Jr. P’78 ’84, a teacher, administrator, and dean from 1964-1975, for his dedicated service to the school and commitment to his students. Lemke’s wife, Nancy P’78 ’84, and children, Betsy Devries ’78 and Stephen, were in attendance at the ribbon-cutting. Becker recognized Tom Perakos and the Class of 1969, who, in celebration of their 50th reunion, established the Perakos Family Cares Gallery in honor of Rowe, for his dedicated service to the school and commitment to his students.
Celebrating our lead donors
Turning his attention to the most generous donors, whose multi-million-dollar commitments made TPACC possible, Becker noted that some had asked to remain anonymous but the school was grateful to have them in attendance for the ribbon-cutting. “In 2017, when we first set out to raise funds for an arts and community facility, this was just a hope; it was an idea,” until donors stepped up to bring it to life, first and foremost among them, Perakos, Becker said, turning to address him directly: “Your commitment to and affirmation of the vision for arts at Gunn served as an inspiration for this ambitious project. We are forever grateful to you for stepping up and putting a stake in the ground when the idea of a new center for the arts was just that. You pushed us to dream and to really go for it.”
Perakos was joined at the celebration by his brother, Peter, his wife, Deborah, and their daughter, Nicole, while his mother, age 101, who was unable to be there in person, joined via livestream. She also sent a personal note, which Becker read aloud. “It is impossible to imagine this facility coming to fruition without your early and generous support, and as your mother noted, your vision and your force of will,” Becker said. “Thank you, Tom, for serving as the catalyst for this project. I’m excited for the generations of students who will benefit from it and will see your name there forever.”
Becker recognized Richard C. Colton, Jr. ’60, who was unable to travel to the event, noting his diligence to the arts at the school was expressed years before the building took shape. “All along, Dick remained steadfast in his commitment to elevating the program and its home on our campus,” the Head of School said. “It is an honor to know that generations of Gunn students will do the awesome, messy work of creating and exhibiting art in the beautiful Richard C. Colton, Jr. Arts Wing, and I can’t wait, Dick, until you can be here to see it in person.”
Becker recognized Jonathan Tisch ’72 and Steve Tisch ’67, whose gift established the state-of-the-art, 415-seat Tisch Family Auditorium, which accommodates the entire school for School Meeting three times each week, and has already hosted plays, musicals, concerts, guest speakers, and other school and alumni events. “You and your family’s willingness to support the arts center in the early days was instrumental in signaling to our constituents that constructing this facility was our highest priority. Jon, you and Tom knew that it would completely change the way people think about what we are capable of as a school — and you were right. The Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center has set the bar high for all of our future projects. I am grateful to you and to Steve for giving us a beautiful auditorium to gather as a community in the way that Mr. Gunn always wanted 170 years ago,” Becker said.
“The history has led us to today,” Tisch said at the luncheon, noting that he was a big supporter of the decision to rename the school in 2020 in honor of Mr. Gunn. “When you really study, which Peter and his colleagues have done, you really think about the ideals that this gentleman had, and the impetus 172 years ago to say, ‘I want to create a forum for people to learn about everything — culture, arts, health, the beautiful area where we are standing today in Washington, Connecticut.’ Frederick Gunn stood for so much 172 years ago. To now today have the school reflect his vision, to me, is very important. What Peter and his colleagues have done in terms of rebranding, rethinking, new ideas in the curriculum, I think, continues to make this incredibly special institution.”
“We’re now in such a better place thanks to the generosity of so many people that are here today, and especially Tom. The future is very bright here,” Tisch said. “My brother, Steve, and I, we’re thrilled to be part of what is now the performing arts center, and we look to staying so involved, my wife, Lizzie, and I especially, for many, many years to come.”
As Becker noted, the generosity of the Tisch family is evident on campus, in the new Tisch Family Auditorium and Tisch Schoolhouse, and this spring, Jonathan Tisch announced a very generous gift to establish the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship, which will house the school’s innovative science, math, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, and citizenship curriculum in one location overlooking the school’s historic Quad. A groundbreaking for that project is scheduled June 18, 2022, and the building is expected to open in the fall 2023.
Speaking at the luncheon, Perakos reflected that, as a student, he loved his experience at the school, particularly the education he received from faculty members like Rowe, who reminded him of Professor John Keating from the film, “Dead Poets Society,” and was also his coach in wrestling and tennis. From an early age, Perakos knew he wanted to pursue acting, and pledged, “If I were ever able to make myself successful, that was one thing that I wanted to be able to come back here and be able to do. So it was a dream that I helped to make a reality. I couldn’t do it on my own,” he said, acknowledging that he brought his idea for an arts center to the school with Tisch’s encouragement and guidance.
“It’s all about the arts to me, and the gift that it gives to anybody with any creativity. And now we have a building with all of these rooms that open up onto beautiful natural settings, inspirational settings. If you have any capacity for anything in the arts, or any desire or interest to pursue it, now you can not only do it but you can do it to the best of your ability, because they also have the curriculum to back it up. And for that, bringing that to the school - I try to be humble and kind - it’s not happening - I’m soaring like an eagle today,” Perakos said, his voice filled with emotion. “This building will be for all the children who follow me in the name of my beloved family, and I’m just overwhelmed, and so grateful that I was able to participate in this.”