Arts organizations make changes to survive economic downturn

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(Host) Many arts organizations in Vermont have been affected by the economy.

Frog Hollow closed its Manchester gallery last month. In downtown Rutland, the Center Street Artisans Guild will close its doors.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, many theaters, galleries and non profit arts organizations have begun to rethink how they do things.

(Keck) Alex Aldrich, executive director for the Vermont Arts Council, says the current economic slowdown – coupled with rising fuel prices – is only just beginning to be felt by state arts organizations.

(Aldrich) "There’s a perfect storm about to hit and I don’t want to sound too alarmist. But there’s a real disconnect between the audiences’ perception that everything’s great and the producers’ view that actually life is in deep trouble for us."

(Keck) On any given weekend, Aldrich says, people in Vermont have a wide variety of concerts, plays and community events to choose from.

(Aldrich) "The problem is if you’re one of the producers thinking wow – look at all the competition and look at how few people there are in the state – what are my chances of making a positive statement on my bottom line?"

(Keck) Aldrich says economic realities are already forcing many arts organizations, like Frog Hollow, to make hard choices The 37-year-old Vermont state crafts center had galleries and education centers in Burlington, Middlebury and Manchester. Diedre Healy, Frog Hollow’s Executive Director, says closing their Manchester site was difficult but necessary. She says they’re now focusing more on Internet sales and web site design.

(Healy) "In the arts community there’s a ground swell of sales on line. And what we’re finding is that people are getting much more comfortable with the idea of purchasing art and objects over the Internet. So we’re hoping to begin to build our website and make that a better possibility in terms of sales as well."

(Keck) Healy says they’re also developing a long term action plan to deal with the changing economy.

(Healy) "The downturn in the economy might mean that more people are staying close to home. The strength of the Canadian dollar might mean that more people will be visiting Burlington. So we’re trying to really assess what the strengths or the opportunities for growth might be even in a down turned economy."

(Keck) Heather Clow – executive director of the Lebanon Opera House says they haven’t experienced a big drop in ticket sales, but she says people are spending their entertainment dollars more carefully.

(Clow) "So, for instance, they’d be willing to pay $30 for a performer that they know and they love and that they listen to all the time. But they’re less likely to risk spending that same amount on a performer that they’re not as familiar with. So I think it’s mostly going to affect how we program."

(Keck) Stuart Duke, Director of the Weston Playhouse Theater Company, says that while he is concerned about how the economy and rising fuel costs will affect ticket sales, so far he says their box office numbers are up over last year.

(Duke) "There are sort of two prevailing wisdoms about when gas prices go up and one is that fewer people will drive to Vermont and see shows. The other is that maybe fewer people will fly to Europe and they will drive to Vermont to see shows. And we hope it’s more of the second than the first."

(Keck) Alex Aldrich of the Vermont Arts Council says he is optimistic about the future of the arts in Vermont. But he says organizations that have the best chance of surviving the current economic downturn will be the ones reaching out to collaborate with other organizations to get the most from every dollar.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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