Walt Disney World has been named one of the 10 top companies supporting the arts nationwide, in part because of its commitment to Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
"Business support for the arts is a critical piece of the arts funding equation in the United States," said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, which announced the award on Tuesday. The nonprofit organization's Business Committee for the Arts chooses 10 honorees each year as well giving two individual awards.
Companies such as Walt Disney World "bring the arts into the lives of millions of people, further enriching and improving the quality of life for their workers and communities," Lynch said
Disney has pledged $12.5 million to the downtown center, and the largest theater will be named for the company.
"We are honored to be recognized by Americans for the Arts for our ongoing commitment to the arts in Central Florida," said Nancy Gidusko, director of community relations at Walt Disney World. "Creativity and innovation are part of the fabric of our company — Disney's support of the arts is just a natural extension of who we are and another example of our efforts to further enhance the quality of life across Central Florida."
Last year, Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis won an individual leadership award, also in part for his company's support of the Dr. Phillips Center. Both Otis and Disney World were nominated by United Arts of Central Florida.
"For first Darden and now Disney to be recognized shows that the level of quality we have here is attributable to their presence," said Margot Knight, the outgoing president of United Arts. "Everywhere there's arts here, there's Disney involvement."
The first phase of the Dr. Phillips Center, including the Disney theater, is scheduled to open in 2014. This year, Disney also assumed more oversight of the center's construction. After criticism from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs of the center's management, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer shifted responsibility for managing construction from the arts center's board to a committee made up of Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton and representatives from the city and county, among others.
"The Walt Disney World company was involved in the project years ago," said Kathy Ramsberger, arts-center president. "They've had a commitment to this facility for years."
The $12.5 million donation was so generous it caused a national buzz, Ramsberger said. "It actually got the attention of performing-arts centers all over the country when we announced it."
Disney's reach in Central Florida's arts community spans far beyond the Dr. Phillips Center.
This spring, Walt Disney World gave more than $1.2 million to 62 children's programs across Central Florida, including many run by local arts and cultural groups. The annual awards, called Helping Kids Shine grants, also go to schools, the Orange County Library System and other nonprofit organizations.
Among the recipients were such community-based programs as the Bay Street Players' Young People's Theater Program in Eustis and an outreach program at Orlando Museum of Art for children and families served by the Coalition for the Homeless.
Walt Disney World was also cited by Americans for the Arts for its commitment to the arts through volunteer programs, matching gifts, sponsorships and board memberships.
The non-monetary donations to the community are also a key part of Disney's support, Knight said.
"Because our nonprofit cultural community is a beneficiary of the talents of so many Disney cast members, the award is even more special," she said.
Disney has a program to donate funds to the favorite nonprofit organizations of its employees. When a Disney cast member volunteers with a nonprofit group, the Disney company contributes, too.
This year, for example, Orlando's Yow Dance troupe was the beneficiary of eight individual Walt Disney World VoluntEARS EARS to You grants, as they're known.