Arts groups weather economic storm|Find creative ways to endure recession

Published 3:49 pm Saturday, September 5, 2009

Daily News Correspondent

Area arts groups are finding creative ways to survive an economy in which many people are struggling to obtain the necessities in life and forgoing luxuries
At Washington’s RiverWalk Gallery, painter Jayne Davis Wall and jewelry-maker Sue Beck offered mixed reviews of the sales climate as customers trickled in earlier this week.
“I think the gallery as a whole has come to fairly hard times,” Wall said.
Beck said sales of her work have held steady.
“I have not had any difficulty whatsoever,” she said.
Overall, gallery sales have fallen less than 1 percent over the past year, said Jeff Jakub, a member artist and publicity chairman of RiverWalk.
Patrons are purchasing items, but they’re turning more often to priced-down works of art, Jakub said.
Asked how he accounts for the relatively slight downward slope in sales, Jakub pointed to healthy tourist traffic and the four receptions the gallery holds each year.
“It’s good will,” he said. “It’ll pay back.”
The Turnage Theaters Foundation has managed to achieve a measure of financial stability in part by entering into a partnership with five banks and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Ed Mann, an advisor to the foundation.
“The banks have been working with us, especially Wachovia, which is the lead bank,” said Dr. Jon Tingelstad, president of the foundation.
According to its Web site, the trust “is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities.”
Scotty Henley, executive director of the foundation, is laboring to identify programming that will appeal to a broader range of patrons while costing less on a per-ticket basis, Tingelstad indicated.
“Scotty has been extraordinarily perceptive in developing an agenda of programming that has a little lower budget,” he said.
Yet, Tingelstad acknowledged a drop in member contributions.
“I must say the economy has hurt membership a little bit,” he said. “Some members have dropped back their giving level from a year or two ago.”
The foundation has 751 members, said administrative assistant Alice Blackwell.
The Beaufort County Arts Council avoided a possible funding crisis by adjusting its budget before adopting the spending plan early on during the recession, according to Joey Toler, executive director.
“It’s all about expectations,” Toler said.
BCAC has endured funding cuts from local governments.
In light of the funding reductions, BCAC is taking a hard look at its programming, Toler said.
BCAC has been “kind of shedding some things that don’t work,” he said.
“It’s been a little bit freeing, actually, to think outside the box,” Toler concluded.
Despite tough times, BCAC met its membership fundraising goal of $25,000 this year, Toler related. BCAC has around 600 to 700 members, he said.
Toler sees bright spots ahead. BCAC is planning fundraisers, and gallery show openings continue unabated.
“I think people are feeling a little better about things,” Toler said.
The recession’s effects may not be fully evident in the books of the Beaufort County Concert Association until 2010, said Eleanor Rollins, association president.
As things stand, the association’s board is selecting next year’s bookings with an eye toward less-expensive acts, Rollins said.
“We’ll be more judicious in considering acts for the 2010-2011 season,” she said. “I would say that our audiences continue to be enthusiastic and supportive of the performers that come. We just have to get them in the door to see the performers.”
The association’s membership is down perhaps 10 percent to approximately 825 members, she said. The group is completely supported by revenues from season-membership dues, Rollins added, noting that a one-time payment of $35 gains entrance to five concerts.
“I would say as disposable income has diminished that people are being more selective about what they spend their money on,” Rollins said.
In seasons of economic downturn, the arts are usually the first thing on the chopping block, said Marti Buchanan, president of the Pamlico Playhouse, a Beaufort County community-theater group.
“It’s always the first one on the totem pole that doesn’t get the money,” Buchanan said.
For now, people are more focused on the essential things, she noted, adding that, for some, the arts are essential.
“As crazy as the economy is, if we just stay on course, people aren’t going to let the arts down,” Buchanan said.
The playhouse is tentatively planning a production, and though its board has yet to approve the project, there has been a significant public call for more community-theater programs, Buchanan added.
“I think it’s time,” she said.