Thursday, February 26, 2009

Two To A Sleeping Bag

Ben Cameron spoke at the Illinois Arts Alliance Annual Meeting this past Tuesday. I can’t do justice to the metaphor he used that brings me to the title, but suffice to say that the jist of it was this – if we don’t start making changes in the way we operate, we are not all going to survive. Most of us in the room heard that message loud and clear. We need to change. It’s already hard and its going to get harder. As long as its going to get harder anyway, let’s put some of our creativity and our passion and our smarts to work and challenge ourselves to find new models for the way we create and present our art. How many of us are truly ready to let go of our old models and build anew? If we don’t, it will be done for us.

How can we change, what can we do? Well, I don’t know, nobody has the answers but we’ll never get them if we don’t start working on them. One way to think about it is to think again about sharing resources. Join us on March 23 as we tackle this difficult issue. We will have a panel discussion of some things that have worked and some things that haven’t and a brainstorming session – bring your needs, your ideas, your open minds. And, if you know someone from outside the theatre community who is open to these kinds of ideas, bring him or her as well. No limits.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

World Theater Day

By Ben Thiem, Director of Member Services

Early last week Deb and I were approached by the ever-enthusiastic Jess Hutchinson and Nick Keenan from New Leaf Theatre with an idea. Through conversations on Twitter and elsewhere they came across information for World Theater Day on March 27, 2009. World Theater Day actually began in 1962, but it doesn’t seem like the U.S. has had much of a presence with the program. The mission of World Theater Day is to: “promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts (drama, dance, music theatre) in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and increase creative co-operation between all people in the theatre arts.” That’s a great mission, right?

Since we are all about community and collaboration in Chicago, and particularly international collaboration thanks to companies like Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Goodman, we agreed with Nick and Jessica that it was important for us to have a discussion of how we can be involved with World Theater Day 2009.

We are going to have a meeting at the League offices (228 S. Wabash, Suite 200) this Friday, February 20 from 4:30 p.m.- 6 p.m. to discuss and brainstorm how Chicago can participate. If you are interested in being involved with the program we’d love if you’d join us. Please RSVP to If you can’t make the meeting but are still interested in being involved, please feel free to contact me as well.

Read more about the history of World Theater Day

Read more about what other cities are doing

Nick and Jessica’s blog postings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Earlier this week in the Trib, Chris Jones pointed out the “stunning political ineptitude” of the arts community in this Country. Harsh. But true? We have national organizations advocating for the arts, including Americans for the Arts and TCG whose websites we direct you to regularly in the broadcast. In Illinois, the Arts Alliance advocates for us. But is it enough? What do we need to do to raise the level of support for the arts funded by tax dollars?

Both of our Illinois senators voted against the Coburn amendment to the Economic Stimulus Bill. While the amendment was included in the Senate package anyway, I am grateful to them and gratified by their support. Whatever other political reasons there might be, our senators supported the arts and I would like to think it is because so many of us wrote to them. Please write and thank them.

For now, we can all do the following: please, no matter how small you are, please make sure your elected representatives know you are there and know what kind of impact you make on your neighborhood and on the cultural fabric of Chicago. Make sure your board, your donors, your ensembles and all of your constituents all advocate for you by telling their elected representatives what you mean to them and why they support you.

Making sure your alderman and your state legislators and your federal legislators all know who you are and what you do and why you are important goes a long way towards advocating not just for yourselves but for the field as a whole.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Survey Says...

I’ve been reading A LOT of articles recently about how ticket sales are holding up well while all around us businesses continue to fail. This morning on NPR I heard a story about dairy farmers having to leave the business because of the plummeting price of milk. Really? Milk? Don’t we need as much milk as ever? Anyway…I thought I’d share with you some of the preliminary results of our fiscal survey. We will release more information early next week. The survey indicates that indeed ticket sales are strong, with 50% of theatres reporting steady or increased ticket sales and of the 50% indicating decreased sales, 60% of those are reporting that those decreases are due at least in part to programming. 65% of theatres report that they are projecting contributed income to be down from what was budgeted for FY 09 in varying degrees from 10-60%.

Give some love (or some money) to your favorite theatre in the $250,000 to $1 million budget range because they are faring the worst. 70% report decreased ticket sales and 65% are reporting decreased contributed income. My unscientific opinion is that at this level any kind of decrease in funding results in marketing budgets being cut results in lower ticket sales results in even lower marketing budgets.

I think we need to remind ourselves and our supporters that ticket sales only count for about ½ of our budgets (less in some cases, a lot less in others). Our community is strong and we have been successful in creating spaces where artists can do excellent work. With community support, this could be the time that Chicago attains the competitive advantage and becomes the top destination for theatre going in the United States and possibly the World. Theatre-making in Chicago is not tied to a bottom-line commercial mentality, and so we are able to produce theatre respected all over the world. For our theatres at the highest risk, we need our community to increase support. For us all we need our community to stay engaged and to continue to support theatre at the highest levels possible.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Arts in Crisis

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative, a program designed to provide emergency planning assistance to struggling arts organizations throughout the United States. The initiative is a response to the emergency facing arts organizations throughout the United States. The current economic climate has reduced earned and contributed income, decimated endowments, and has left some organizations struggling for survival. Companies of all sizes, localities, and performing arts disciplines have been affected. The program, open to non-profit 501(c)(3) performing arts organizations, will provide free and confidential counsel in fundraising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting, marketing, and other areas pertinent to maintaining a vital performing arts organization during a troubled economy.

Check out for more information.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Shrinking Arts Media

If you missed our panel discussion a few weeks ago with the Community Media Workshop on the topic of shrinking arts media, you can now listen to it online. Check it out and share any thoughts or questions.