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Oregon Arts Programs Suffering In Down Economy

Art organizations across the state are suffering because of the bad economy.

The latest to issue a warning is the Oregon Ballet Theatre. It says it needs to find $750,000 by the end of next month — or will have to close its doors.

Kristian Foden-Vencil has been following the story and joins me now. Good afternoon Kristian.

Kristian: Hi

Beth:  What happened with the ballet company? Did OBT make bad decisions or are they having trouble filling seats?

Kristian: No, no, nothing like that.

Basically the Oregon Ballet Theatre is suffering from the same problem as every other non-profit.
When the markets tanked last fall, foundations, companies and wealthy individuals saw their funds shrink by 50 percent or more.

Their reaction was not to make the same donations they made last year.

So it’s that slice of the ballet’s income pie that’s gone missing.  Ticket sales are actually fine.

John Ulsh is the executive director.

John Ulsh: “We recognized very early on some of the challenges that we might be facing and we did not wait until the last moment to start making the cuts we needed to make. We took five percent out of our budget way back last November, which meant salary cuts, downsizing and a decrease in the number of orchestra performances for Nutcraker that we did.”

Kristian: They’ve also reduced their budget for next year by almost 30 percent.   Also — he mentioned the Nutcracker — you might recall that Portland was buried in snow right before Christmas last year, and that really cut the audiences for that holiday

Beth: So what’s the plan? How are they going to raise $750,000 in one month?

Kristian: Well they’ve organized a gala benefit where top performers from New York, Boston and San Francisco will appear.

That’s on June 12th and they hope it’ll fill half the hole.

The other part of their plan is simply to let people know there’s a problem and the hope is they’ll come forward with funds.  Here’s Ulsh again.

John Ulsh: “We are very concerned but at the same time we’re very hopeful. We believe that this community cares very deeply about OBT. And we would want people to know that we have a strong belief that if we all band together and that if this support is forthcoming, which we think it will be, that there’s every reason to be hopeful and together this is absolutely something we can solve.”

Kristian: You know — as I mentioned —  attendance and membership at the ballet are healthy — but ticket sales only bring in about half the funds needed.  Government support has also remained about the same as last year. It’s just that foundations and other donors have been hit hard.

Beth:  Are there any arts umbrella organizations that the ballet can turn to for help?

Kristian: Yes. The Regional Arts and Culture Council gives the ballet about $80,000 a year. It also has an emergency fund. But it’s already given the ballet $25,000 out of that.

Arts Council spokesman, Jeff Hawthorne, says the ballet is not the only group having problems.

Jeff Hawthorne: “We have been awarding emergency grants all year long. And I could give you a list of the arts organizations that have applied and received those funds. The ballet is largest organization so far to receive those funds.”

Kristian: Other groups that have received emergency support include the Friends of Chamber Music. But larger organizations like the Oregon Symphony or Portland Center Stage haven’t needed arts council help so far.

Beth: And other dance organizations?  How are they doing?

Kristian: Well, they’re concerned. Paul King is the co-founder of White Bird, — that group runs a dance series, and is one of the organizations helping the ballet put on its gala benefit.

Paul King: “We can’t imagine a Portland without our stellar world-acclaimed ballet company, Oregon Ballet Theatre. We really can’t allow this to happen as a community. And this is just a time of need that we all should come together and are coming together to help an organization that is of supreme importance in our community, culturally and in terms of the business fabric and every element of our culture.” 

Kristian:  So King and others seem pretty determined to find the money.

Beth: Thank you Kristian.

Kristian: My pleasure.

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