Arts organizations on life support

By December 14, 2010

Economists tell us that the economy is in recovery mode — albeit a slow one.

That’s good news for the arts community, which is certainly feeling a chill. One sneeze, and a sound organization could develop a serious case of pneumonia.

Even when an economy is in recovery mode, it’s possible for an arts organization to develop a serious problem of cash flow.

This situation came to a head in Roseville last month when Civic Theatre West could no longer afford to function. The closure of this performing arts organization means that there will be no live theater at the historical Roseville and Tower theaters in that city’s historical district.

Local authorities and business owners were surprised by the closure. They are now in damage control mode, because the loss of the theaters means there will be less foot traffic to local businesses and restaurants — the community will suffer.

Sacramento Opera has caught a serious “cold” this season. So much so, that its board had to take extreme measures to save the patient — and the issue is in doubt.

In a press release, the Sacramento’s 30-year-old opera organization announced the cancellation of the remainder of the 2010–2011 season. The small staff was laid off, with only the opera’s director, Rod Gideons, staying on in an attempt to reorganize for the 2011–2012 season.

The nonprofit organization’s production of Handel’s “Orlando” last month was beautiful. However, audiences were unfamiliar with this rarely performed opera, and opera lovers did not fill the seats as expected for the production’s two performances.

Too bad, because the planned February production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” certainly would have been spectacular and hopefully, well attended.

But when an organization catches a cold, sometimes it’s best to put the patient in the ICU rather than risk losing them altogether. This is what the Sac Opera board chose to do. The organization isn’t under water, but it simply doesn’t have the cash flow to risk a season of poor ticket sales.

According to a recent press release Sacramento Opera is not going out of business, but will be on a “temporary hiatus from the financial demands of production to provide the organization with financial breathing room and to bring all of its accounts current.”

Ticket holders for this season’s opera events can seek refunds, exchange their tickets for a Sacramento Philharmonic event or donate their tickets to the nonprofit.

The Wall Street Journal is advising those who wish to donate to nonprofit organizations to perform their due diligence when considering gifts this season. They also recommended that folks “give as much as you can to fewer organizations” in order to have a greater impact.

There are many organizations in our community that are in dire need of help if they are to continue. Sacramento Opera is one of them. Others appear to be making it, but one “sneeze” and they could be gone. This is especially true for arts organizations and museums in our immediate vicinity.

Here’s hoping that everyone makes it through “flu season.”

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected]

Susan Laird


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