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September 19, 2013

Do you like this?

With all the talk, including in this publication, about Chattanooga’s flourishing arts scene, it came as a shock to read that one of its oldest and most beloved arts institutions, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, is in big financial trouble.

So much trouble, in fact, that if the CTC does not raise $90,000—fast—it’s in danger of shutting its doors, just as it celebrates its 90th season.

I have confidence the community will not let this happen. The CTC is too much a part of the cultural fabric of Chattanooga for the city to let it disappear.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a big donor steps forward to make up most, if not all, of the shortfall. But therein lies the rub.

The immediate financial fire might be put out, but the source of that fire, the continuing decline in arts funding, continues to smolder.

And for those of us in the arts, that leads to the really big question: Why don’t Americans value the arts the way other countries do?

I’m not going to put you to sleep with statistics, but some are necessary to reveal the startling truths. 

According to the National Endowment for the Arts (which partially funds the Tennessee Arts Council, which in turn partially funds ArtsBuild, which in turn partially funds the CTC), the 2012 NEA total budget was $146 million. According to the NEA’s “How the United States Funds the Arts” (2012), the amount of its budget allocated to the states has continued to decline, beginning in 2010, as a direct result of the Great Recession. This allocation was cut by $37 million in 2010 alone.

Contrast that with this bit of info from the Brits: “From April 2012 we increased [emphasis mine] the share of National Lottery funding for the arts from 16.67% to 20%. Together with increased National Lottery income, this means that Arts Council England should receive £262 million of National Lottery funding in 2014 to 2015, compared with £151 million in 2010 to 2011.” (source: www.uk.gov)

Let’s do some math, shall we? That means from just that one source, the arts in the UK in that year will receive some $385, 481,800 in that year alone; this in a country with a population of about 63 million people, as compared to ours of more than 314 million.

Kinda makes your jaw drop, doesn’t it?

Americans continue to have a problem with understanding why the arts are not some frivolous frill. Study after study directly correlates arts education, which is provided partly by places just like the CTC, with better graduation/lower dropout rates. And even more studies…are arts folks the only ones reading these?...show that the arts are vital in helping develop exactly the creative and critical thinking skills that the jobs of today demand. 

Then there’s the tired old argument of “let the arts pay for themselves.” 

Nonprofit arts organizations cannot survive on ticket sales, or “earned income.” To do so, they would have to charge the ticket prices for-profit organizations do—and have you priced a Broadway show recently? The CTC’s highest ticket on special nights, about $30, would not even get you close to the door on Broadway, much less inside. The mandate of “nonprofits,” defined by their very name, is not to make money but to provide valuable community services. This the CTC does, in spades.

Having said all this, there is no doubt in arts professionals’ minds that the American paradigm is not going to change in the near future. Therefore, the dependence of arts nonprofits on various types of grants, from government to private foundations, to make up an average of 45 percent of their budgets, has to be re-examined in light of the unfortunate New Normal.

But what if we began thinking about a New New Normal? One in which we recognize and acknowledge the real contributions arts organizations make: culturally, yes, but also in education and economics. Depoliticize the constant barrage of misinformation and prejudice the NEA faces each year, and instead help it to further an American path that has always relied on creativity and resourcefulness. 

How about Chattanooga leading the way? Wouldn’t be the first time. In the meantime, go to theatrecentre.com and make the biggest donation you can afford.

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September 19, 2013

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