Sunday, January 13, 2002

Arts groups braced for economy

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What impact will the recession have on Cincinnati's performing arts in the first quarter of 2002?

        The year has opened strong with The Vagina Monologues as more than 90 percent of tickets are sold to the show, which continues in the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater through Jan. 20.

        Yet some effects are expected to be felt at the box office and in the amount of public and private dollars available.

        • Local businessman Otto Budig Jr., who will be honored in spring with a Governor's Award for the Arts as an arts patron, takes an upbeat tone overall. The current downturn, he says, “is only temporary.” He does venture that 2002 could be a tough year for “grants, sponsorships, ticket sales. I do believe there's a natural tendency in times of difficulty to turn inward.”

        Mr. Budig emphasizes that existing obligations must come first. “Promises made are promises kept.”

        Thre are currently several large projects, like the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, that carry long-term funding commitments from major donors.

        Those will be met, assures Mr. Budig.

        What comes into question is how much more will be available for discretionary giving, particularly as contributions to projects like the center fit an exacting timetable that may not coincide with stock market fluctuations.

        • Following a national trend, some local endowments have swooped with the stock market. Cincinnati Symphony had a roller coaster ride in December, with the $90 million endowment at one point dipping to a still hefty $76 million.

        Because a fraction of the operating budget comes from the endowment, that fraction is potentially smaller.

        While Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been affected by the recession, grantsman Miles Wilson says it's debatable whether the not-for-profits it helps will feel the effects.

        The foundation uses a five-year rolling average for grant-making to cushion against recession. (Which means if the recession lasts, there could have more impact on GCF giving in 2005 than it does now.)

        • Businesses continue to assess their position in the current economy. Cinergy recently changed its formula for giving. Formerly, 1 percent of pre-tax regulated and unregulated earnings of the corporation were available to fund Cincinnati area not-for-profits. That will change to 1 percent of regulated earnings only.

        Combined “with the warmest December on record,” says Cinergy Foundation chief J. Joseph Hale, look for about a 20 percent drop in available funds in 2002 and again in 2003.

        Ongoing commitments will be met. (Cinergy is, for instance, three years into a five-year $350,000 pledge to sponsor the educational program of the new Center for Contemporary Arts).

        Mr. Hale notes “we plan to use the discretionary money remaining wisely.”

        • It remains in question how secure the average ticket-buyer and casual arts patron feels about the economy. As credit card bills from holiday buying arrive and the unemployment rate sneaks higher, one bellwether worth watching may be the pace of the first weeks of the annual Fine Arts Fund drive, beginning in mid-February.

        There's already some belt-tightening going on at performing and visual arts institutions.

        Contemporary Arts Center is postponing a couple of planned hires, including a curator. Contemporary Dance Theatre can't afford to bring back Pilobolus until next year. Their April concert was postponed because of the riots.

        Mr. Budig adds emphatically that he won't be pulling back his giving in 2002, no matter the economy. “Those of us committed to the arts,” he says, “will simply have to make up any temporary differences.”


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