Monday, January 26, 2009

Can the "arts" survive the recession?

The economic landscape is becoming more desolate day by day. Across all continents, political boundaries, business sectors, and down to the personal level the recession deepens. Jobs are being lost, 75,000 announced in the past few days. The impact is being felt in every facet of daily life and hard choices confront us all.

The "arts" communities in many major U.S. cities are struggling to survive as patrons stop attending music, theatre and dance performances. Half of the theaters on Broadway in New York City have gone dark. In Sacramento, the Sacramento Ballet has cancelled the remainder of their performances at the Community Center and the Sacramento Theatre Company's Main stage.

The dancers in the company are still rehearsing for the performances that can be held at the company's studio and they have taken their plight to the streets and to the internet to help with fundraising.

Lt. Col.,Ret. Fred Shadle who has attended every performance since 1962 summarizes the situation precisely. “In my view, we have three major-league teams in this city: the Kings, the Monarchs and the Sacramento Ballet. The ballet is the only one that wins all the time. The only time the ballet loses is when people aren’t there to keep it together."

I have worked with the ballet since 1996 when my daughter was taking ballet lessons and got a role as a "cherub" in the annual Nutcracker performance. She had other roles, Mother Ginger kid, a soldier battling the Mouse King and then moved on to soccer and school activities; I stayed with the ballet to photograph every production until I moved to Oregon in 2007.

Two dancers were always there. Kirsten Bloom and Jack Hansen. Their work ethic was incredible. Though injuries and fatigue were common factors, lack of passion was not. Carinne Binda and Ron Cunningham, the artistic directors of the company always managed to hire a corps of dancers who had passion and the desire to become better ever day. The Sacramento Ballet has always been a place where a dancer could come for a few years, train with Ron and Carinne and then move on to greater professional challenges. So many have. Jared Nelson, Amy Seiwert, Bobby Briscoe, Charlie Hodges, Easton Smith, Colby Damon to name only a few.

In my layman's view this is Ron and Carinne's greatest achievement, why the Sacramento Ballet is one of the finest companies in the country, and one of the great Sacramento community losses should the company not stay afloat.

Everyone has basic needs: food, affordable housing, clothing, education. Add to that insurance for health and property to keep the wolves from your door. Whats' left then, "discretionary income," gets parceled out until the well is dry.

What seems to me to be missing from the equation is food for the soul that comes from appreciating the cultural opportunities that exist in most communities. Why is it that in tough times, the soul seems to be neglected when the arts can bring a bit of joy and hope for a better tomorrow?

Dancers, musicians, actors, painters, ceramists, photographers are workers as well as artists. They have jobs just like Home Depot clerks, GM auto workers, Microsoft programmers, waiters, waitresses, cooks, plumbers and carpenters. One man or woman's job loss in one sector is no different than a loss in another. When a company's survival is on the line, however, the loss can mean a part of a community's identity is also gone.

I think back to early 2007 when things seemed better (we all know now that storm was already brewing in the financial oceans and heading straight for land). The Sacramento Ballet was eagerly planning and rehearsing for it's first-ever foreign tour, a two-week tour to Shanghai and Beijing, China. Ron and Carinne, Tim Orr, the company manager, twenty-three dancers, a lighting specialist, a stage manager, a newly retired photojournalist, i.e. me, and a group of ballet aficionados had a fantastic experience on the trip.

This was the Sacramento Ballet becoming a world-class company. It was their Super Bowl, Masters, Stanley Cup, Wimbledon, and Daytona 500. Enjoy the show and if you can spare a few dollars, send them to the Sacramento Ballet or to an arts organization in your neighborhood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of working for the Sacramento Ballet as a props artisan for a few years in the 90s. I now share my love of theater arts with school children. Whatever language they speak, whatever challenges they face, they are lifted up by the arts.

I wholeheartedly agree with you--the soul needs careful nurturing and uplifting, and expression through the arts. What a treasure the SBA is! You've done a gorgeous piece. Wish it ran as a PSA, along with your comments.