You don't have to convince me about the power of the arts -- specifically in the flagship producing theaters in the state.
I have covered the Connecticut arts scene for 35 years and have seen first-hand the impact the state's five Tony Award-winning landmark theaters (and the 82-year-old historic Westport Playhouse, the oldest producing theater in the state) within our borders -- and far beyond, as they earned 30 Tony Awards, several Pulitzer Prizes and awards and accolades too numerous to mention.
Still, it is stunning to see raw economic data from these producing theaters (i.e. those that create "made in Connecticut" shows from scratch, not just a venue that ships show from afar only to see the box office dough go out the door and out of the state.)
Every year more than 427,000 folks attend performances at Goodspeed Musical's two theaters, Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, the Westport Country Playhouse and the Yale Repertory Theatre. That would be an awesome audience for any sports team or tourist destination.
The combined payroll of these six institutions?: More than $23 million. Their employees? A total of 354 full time and 1,280 visiting. The amount of money the theaters spend locally as well as its printing and advertising costs? More than $8.3 million. Students served (as schools cut arts programs)?: More than 41,000. These numbers dramatically show the economic impact of theaters that collectively have an operating budget of more than $40 million annually.
I was heartened to see that an earlier blog I wrote got the theaters talking about joining forces, hiring a lobbyist and beating their own drum a little harder trying to convince legislators of their special status. I proposed in that blog a "5-50-500" plan in which the state gives special line-item support to its five Tony Award-winning theaters and the eve of their 50th anniversaries for a total of $500,000.
This would give them recognition and a modest yet dependable support that would also bring them in alignment withmany other arts, cultural and historic groups that already get special funding. (The presenting houses such as New Haven's Shubert, Stamford's and Waterbury's Palaces, New London's Garde, all get six-figure annual subsidies; and yes, I would argue that the Bushnell, which does not, deserves equity with the others.)
Previously they were all dependendent on state grants from a diminishing pool of money spread out among an increasing number of arts, heritage and cultural groups.
With little will to phase out the existing earmarks that pols have established over the years, it's time to make it right to honor those truly creationg an innovative place. And yes, not all arts groups are created equal. It's ridiculous to say these six theaters that attracted audiences of close to a half million people a year should be treated like any other group. If the legislators and governor are serious about supporting innovation, they should take a dramatic stand at those who are creating innovative work that resounds across the country.
The sorry fact that these six flagship theaters -- which create work that helps to make Connecticut the state "where great things begin" -- get so little support is a failure to fulfill the governor's and legislators own transformational goals: of helping innovators here create even more great art, jobs and making its cities "place-making" beacons for others.
A slight variation of the 5-50-500 proposal would not only bring a significant sense of fairness to the way the state funds its arts but this investment would empower the theaters to continue to act both individually and collectively to bring even a greater brand of innovation, excitement and economic growth to the state.
But supporting the six flagship theaters' creative innovation shouldn't be at the expense of other arts groups both large and small dependent on the existing arts pool. To diminish this paltry pool of money further would be an outrageous act by the Department of Economic and Communiuty Development.
Honor these theaters now -- and empower the innovative artists that make Connecticut so special