Editorials

We must stop starving our arts

Dancers Katie Miller and Ava Chatterson leap during a performance of Sacramento Ballet's "Swan Lake.” A single donor covered half the production costs.
Dancers Katie Miller and Ava Chatterson leap during a performance of Sacramento Ballet's "Swan Lake.” A single donor covered half the production costs. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

It’s a final bow for the season that we hope the Sacramento Ballet never has to repeat.

Laying off dancers for the final three weeks of the 2014-15 season. Canceling its popular series of Beer and Ballet performances. And, most recently, parting ways with its executive director after only a year to find someone with more experience in sales and marketing.

At issue, of course, is money.

This region simply doesn’t have an army of homegrown Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 companies willing to provide a financial floor to arts organizations. Instead, the ballet and others, such at the B Street Theatre, struggle to survive on ticket sales, while they beg and plead for individuals to give what they can.

That’s a losing business model that must change.

The arts groups must change their approach to appeal to broader audiences with influence and money. So must the community at large, which has been quick to buy tickets to performances, but hesitant to donate.

As Nancy Garton, the president of the ballet’s board, put it: “Ticket sales just don’t cut it in the arts.”

The ballet had a budget shortfall of about $80,000 when it was forced to close its doors early for the season. Garton told The Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis that the ballet couldn’t even cover the salaries of the dancers and staff.

Meanwhile, one – yep, one – individual donor covered half the costs for last season’s productions of “Swan Lake” and “Great Gatsby.”

This, despite the fact that the ballet has a loyal following.

In fact, a near-capacity crowd turned out for last month’s “Behind the Barre” performance at the Crest Theatre. About 20 laid-off dancers hurriedly put it together and about 800 people who normally wouldn’t attend a performance at the ballet’s home Community Center Theater showed up.

The ballet also managed to help secure a $5 million contribution from the City Council for the Studios for the Performing Arts project in midtown. The ballet has signed on to be an anchor tenant and is raising $250,000 for tenant improvements. It expects to move in by the end of the year.

This conflicted attitude extends to other local arts groups.

As Nancy Garton, the president of the ballet’s board, put it: “Ticket sales just don’t cut it in the arts.”

The B Street Theatre struggled for nearly a decade to amass funds for a new $25 million complex in midtown before a gift from the city finally brought it within striking distance last year.

And the Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic, which operate under the umbrella Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, had to cancel their 2014-15 seasons. Only after hiring a consultant, restructuring its board of directors and engaging in some serious emergency fundraising was the philharmonic set to start performing again this month.

More individuals and small-business sponsors need to step up, especially as the economy rebounds. We may not have many large corporations, but neither are we poor.

This benign neglect is making this region culturally smaller, and threatens not just the ballet, but the already weakened fabric of Sacramento’s local arts.

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