“The number of new donors the last few months of 2008 significantly decreased,” says Dave Henson, spokesman for the Old Globe theater company. Although it will be difficult, he believes current donors will remain committed. Subscription sales are off 7 to 8 percent from last year. The current budget “reflects a series of budget cuts including some staff reductions.”
Joe Kobryner is vice president in San Diego of New York’s Nederlander Producing Company of America, a for-profit organization that puts on Broadway shows. Kobryner, obviously, does not have to worry about fund-raising. “Last year, season ticket sales were down, but this year they are up,” he says. Because of the economy, people can order as few as three shows in their package. “During recessionary times, people still look for entertainment and escapism.”
San Diego arts and cultural groups get gifts from the City, generated by the transient occupancy tax. The sums are not overwhelming, however: the opera gets $462,000 a year out of its total budget of more than $17 million. Back in 2002, local arts and cultural groups got $10.8 million from local government, including the commission’s administrative costs, according to Victoria Hamilton, executive director of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. Last year, the comparable number was $8 million. “The last few years, our budget has been flat,” she says. Statistics indicate that the tourist business is declining. Hotel-tax revenue is likely to shrink.
The San Diego Foundation sent out a questionnaire to more than 200 arts and cultural groups, and about one-third responded. The plurality “are feeling the pinch, are taking appropriate measures to prepare for the future, and believe things will get worse,” says Felicia Shaw, director of arts and culture at the foundation. The second-most-numerous group is in crisis mode, and some could shut down. A tiny group claims it is not feeling the downturn. The groups are seeing the economic megrims in ticket sales and both individual and corporate giving.
“I think there are many serious problems we do not yet know of,” says David Gregson, longtime performing arts writer. More general directors will be aggressively asking for donations and ticket purchases. “The new pleas will stress urgency.”