Performing Arts Ticket Sales 2013: Doom & Gloom or Golden Era?

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Industry expert Roger Tomlinson has written a rather gloomy 2013 forecast for performing arts ticket sales - Is it really going to be that bad? We seem to have managed to not go over the fiscal cliff and a staccato of funding announcements indicate all is not doom and gloom for The Arts. This installment of Green Means Go compares Mr. Tomlinson's authoritative opinion with Julia Keller's 'Bad times bring good art'.

Executive's note: With respect for your time, Green Means Go posts highlight the salient points and solutions from theaters and nonprofit entities.

Spare A Thought

Hours after the clock struck midnight on New Year's Roger Tomlinson penned an OpEd that is a rather gloomy forecast for performing arts theaters. In 'Support our Low Paid 'mission-critical' staff' Tomlinson cites economic indicators in both Europe and the U.S. showing employment in The Arts will be in recession.

2013 is going to be a tough year for the economy. But tougher for arts organizations as the triple whammy of Arts Council and local authority cuts combines with seriously reduced spending power in the majority of the population. Income is going to be down. If raising funds from sponsorship and giving was hard, it is now much harder...

In the US, where they have had longer experience of the flat-lining economy, less funding, and, by the way, donations and sponsorship aren't rescuing them, they have long used strategies to save on costs for staff they pay: arts organizations have “payment holidays” when the staff are not paid their wages for a week or a month; some staff get pay during the “main” part of the season but are expected to work as volunteers outside that.

Previously, 'Green Means Go' shared Tomlinson'sCassandra Complex, but that was during the tumultuous fiscal cliff negotiations of late December 2012. The so-called "cliff" has since been avoided and Wall Street has reacted positivelyto the economic reassurances therein. Wall Street isn't the only source of information contrasting Tomlinson. In just the past few days, several prominent funding announcements have been made.

New Funding Success Stories

A primary function of 'Green Means Go' is to make theater owners and nonprofit entities aware of funding success stories. In the context of predicting what 2013 has in store for The Arts, funding successes take on an even more important role - that of soothsayer. Here's just a small sample of this week's funding news.

Anchorage, Alaska

Cassandra Stalzer reports The Arts have just received a major boost, just days into the new year. The Rasmuson Foundation has announced its $8.5 million will be made available to strengthen not just the performing arts theaters, but all of Alaska's cultural institutions. The funding seeds itself in the form of grants, initiatives and material support for programs big and small. Specific elements of the initiative include:

  • Harper Arts Touring Program: provides grants to stimulate access to high-quality arts in communities throughout Alaska, and supports tours of Alaska's performing artists and exhibits.
  • Art Acquisition Fund provides grants to museums and cultural centers to purchase, conserve and manage contemporary Alaska-based artwork for permanent collections. This program is administered by Museums Alaska.
  • New programs that will incentivize new public and private investment in the arts, and help mid-sized arts organizations become more sustainable. These programs are in development, and will be fully announced at a later date.

Syracuse, New York

Melinda Johnson writes of the bounty that has been bestowed on central New York state for the furtherance of The Arts as part ofa $93.8 million aid package. There is $62,000 for a new visual and performing arts festival and another $680,000 for the renovation of a artist venue. The announcement comes with a long list of cultural art venues the dollar amounts being awarded, and most importantly for readers of Green Means Go, the method(s) by which the funding was received. Johnson'slist

Syracuse Stage Theater: $500,000 grant

Center for the Arts of Homer: $200,000 grant

Cortland Downtown Partnership Theater: $200,000 grant

Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation: $62,000 grant

Peterborough, Ontario

From the great white North, Catherine Whitnall has news that a theater has successfully met its fundraising target ahead of schedule. The Academy Theatre originally set a funding goal of $50,000 but the overwhelming support of established patrons and the community in general resulted in an overflow amount of $70,000. The above and beyond funds were raised through ticket sales for a Christmas performance. The theater's general manager could not be more pleased with the results:

After we subtract our costs we’re looking at adding more than $12,000...they sold about 950 tickets which is about 70 per cent attendance. They should be very proud. It’s really gratifying and comforting to know that we have such support in the community, now we have tangible evidence.

The manger goes on to dispel the notion that funding is in a downturn and that performing arts theaters can meet, and greatly exceed, their funding goals in 2013.

Solace Through Enrichment

So far, in this post contains two conflicting sets of data. One negative outlook by a respected industry analysis, the other "My Cup Runneth Over" list of funding successes. Rather than pit the two against each other and declare a "winner", it may be best to look back at historical precedent because The Arts have seen tough economic times before.

A few years ago, Julia Keller wrote 'The worst of times can make for the best of arts' for the Los Angeles Times. It is very important to note when she wrote her article - November 2008. That was the very darkest hour of the U.S. economic collapse. At that time no one knew just how far the economy would tumble, and based on the data at that moment in time, it felt as if it would exceed the ruin of The Great Depression.

In retrospect, the conditions in which Keller wrote, make the bumps of 2013 look quite tame. Yet the points made in 'Worst of Times' hold true now. The Arts are a rally point for communities to flock to in times of uncertainty. That was true in 1930s, in 2008 and, for the purposes of predicting what's ahead for performing arts theaters, will be true this year. To quote Keller:

the Great Depression was a time of hardship and suffering on a massive scale, the Great Depression also was the crucible for many exquisite works of American art, including masterful novels, incomparable documentary photographs, stimulating architecture, sprightly music, provocative paintings and sculpture -- works that are still read and studied and appreciated today, some three-quarters of a century after their creation. It was a time of anxiety and dread, but also a time of vision and innovation.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this period was the impulse to reconsider the social functions of art...Such an impulse reflected a desire "to help represent or disclose the conditions of existence endured by Americans across the social or economic spectrum. Movies and books and music and photography and painting can contribute to the forging of collective bonds, and in the process maybe help alleviate suffering.

ThunderTix strongly supports the idea that in uncertain times, The Arts are a beacon of solace. No matter how 2013 unfolds, be it "doom & gloom" or new golden era, or, as the hero image of this post suggests, something in between, we will continue our support of hard working nonprofits and performing arts theaters. Wespecialize in online ticket sales for theaters and nonprofits with features like custom reserved seating charts and nightly depositswith pricing bysubscription.

If your theater or nonprofit needs a ticketing software that helps you to tap into the altruistic sentiment of the times, good or bad, and contributes to your fund raising goals, we would love to be your software of choice in 2013 and beyond.

What is 'Green Means Go'?ThunderTix’s commitment to The Arts doesn't end with a sold out performance. We want to help theaters, big and small, meet their operational goals by sharing new ideas and best practices for accepting donations and increased ticket sales. 'Green Means Go' is a series for performing arts theaters and chronicles the latest developments in fundraising, event awareness and ticket sale technology.

The previous installments in this series include:

The Fiscal Cliff and Nonprofit Theaters
Any Port in a Storm Will Do
5 Big Funding Announcements For Performing Arts Theaters