So Far, Local Arts Groups Weathering the Downturn

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

So far, so good.

While arts groups around the country are facing increasingly desperate economic problems from the spreading collapse on Wall Street, arts groups in Eugene report only slight declines in ticket sales as the year wraps up.

"We are not cutting programs," said Jim Ralph, executive director of Eugene's Shedd Institute for the Arts. "We are actually adding a few."

Nationally and even internationally, the signs are ominous. The 58-year-old Baltimore Opera declared bankruptcy this month. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra may follow if it doesn't secure a $1 million loan from the city of Norfolk.

In Vancouver, B.C., Ballet BC laid off its entire staff this fall in response to a cash crunch.

Closer to home, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland recently cut $1.65 million out of its 2009 budget, citing slow ticket sales during the summer's high gasoline prices and the effect of the Wall Street collapse on its endowment. The cuts bring the festival's 2009 budget down to $24.9 million, but artistic director Bill Rauch says he expects sales to exceed 80 percent of capacity this season despite the slowdown.

Eugene arts groups may have been spared the worst because of two facts that have, in the past, been seen as weaknesses: Most groups here are too poor to have an endowment, and few attract much of an out-of-town audience.

In fact, only the Oregon Bach Festival has an endowment of any size, and the fund is so new that its capital growth from new donations has exceeded any market-based losses this year.

"It's just now beginning to produce income," festival spokesman George Evano said. "Because the body of the endowment grew substantially in the last year - now up to $8.3 (million) of the $10 million target - the interest payout actually will triple for the coming year up to $130,000. After that, it's hard to say."

The Bach festival is cautiously planning a 2009 budget of $2.2 million, down 5 percent from last year. The festival's 2008 summer season was its best ever for ticket sales.

"Our programs and artists for the 2009 season are booked and committed," he said. "However, we will watch expenses and income closely, and, if needed, adjust in whatever ways we can."

Smaller groups in Eugene are similarly wary. At Eugene Opera, whose season opens with a New Year's Eve performance of "Orpheus in the Underworld," season ticket sales are off about 5 percent from last year at this time. …