Recession Slams U.S. Arts Organizations

Once flush with corporate and private donations, rising ticket revenue, and government subsidies, many nonprofit arts groups are now reeling and resorting to widespread staff layoffs and furloughs, canceled performances and tours, and truncated seasons, the Washington Post reports.

The recession has slammed the brakes on what had been one of the most prosperous periods for the arts in the United States in memory, with a steady surge in the growth of community theaters, dance troupes, museums, and other arts groups over the past two decades. And while many arts organizations managed to survive previous recessions, arts administrators have said this recession is deeper and more widespread, with economic bad news on multiple fronts.

In response to the downturn, some institutions, including the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, have scaled back exhibitions. Others, such as the Baltimore Opera Company, have chosen to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidate their assets, while still others, the Sacramento Ballet among them, have decide to cancel the rest of their season.

At the same time, many arts organizations have had to fight the perception that contributing to the arts at a time of economic hardship is somehow frivolous. To that end, some groups have adopted and/or fine-tuned the message that the arts are an important economic engine that creates jobs and stimulates tourism. The federal government also has stepped in, providing $50 million in stimulus package funding to state agencies and arts groups through the National Endowment for the Arts and $25 million to the Smithsonian Institution.

Still, many organizations are concerned about the future. "We've all seen upturns and downturns," said Cookie Gregory Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin, "but this is pretty extraordinary...It's an economic tsunami."

Paul Farhi. "Stage of Emergency." Washington Post 05/03/2009.