Monday, December 29, 2008

ARTS GROUPS NEED FEDERAL HELP NOW

Michael Kaiser, Washington Post - While government bailouts are being offered or considered for financial institutions, the auto industry, homeowners, and so many other needy and worthy sectors, one group is quickly and rather quietly falling apart: our nation's arts organizations. In the past few months, dozens of opera companies, theater companies, dance organizations, museums and symphonies have either closed or suffered major cash crises. . .

Subsidies -- in the form of government grants or private contributions -- have long been required to help arts organizations balance their budgets. Well-managed arts organizations have typically been able to find the money required to operate if they create interesting programs, market them aggressively and build strong donor bases.

But these times are different. Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated. A number of our most loyal donors have watched their own investment portfolios be depleted and cannot provide their traditional funding. Our audience members cannot buy as many tickets as they have in the past. And our board members are less able to involve friends and associates in our fundraising galas and other activities.

This perfect storm has already weakened the fabric of our nation's arts ecology. Over the past several months, the Baltimore Opera Company, Santa Clarita Symphony, Opera Pacific, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and others have closed or come close to closing. There probably will be a torrent of additional closures, cancellations and crises in the coming months. . .

We need an emergency grant for arts organizations in America, and we need legislation that allows unusual access to endowments. Washington must encourage foundations to increase their spending rates during this crisis, and we need immediate tax breaks for corporate giving.

The writer is president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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