Art-less: Cultural institutions squeezing, closing
Downtown Charlottesville's largest private art gallery, Sage Moon, did not survive to see in the new year, and its closure was soon followed by another gallery called Migration. Cultural casualties aren't limited to art galleries.
"[O]ur situation is tenuous..." wrote chairman of the board Dan Layman in December,
hoping to raise $250,000 by January 31 in an unapologetic "Challenge to Survive" campaign and another $400K by May 1. The nonprofit, which operates the historically recreated Blackfriars Theater, has already sliced $400,000 from its $3.2 million budget, laid off eight people, turned three workers into part timers, and asked creditors (including the Hook) to convert debt to donations.
"We're seeing the effect at universities and colleges, where our touring group goes," says Deidre Sullivan, the director of development, who was hearing about multiple cancellations of student groups. "That was the first real indication of how we'd be impacted," says Sullivan. The center realized people would cut back on entertainment and wouldn't be going out as much, she says, and they wondered how that will affect tourism in Staunton.
"Our intention was always to keep open," says Sullivan, and Bard lovers have come through with the donations from as far away as New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K, topping the January 31 $250,000 goal by $965.
"Every donation that comes in has a note telling how important we are to them and what show they saw," says Sullivan.
Meanwhile in Waynesboro, the Artisans Center of Virginia, a nonprofit for fine crafts, has seen retail revenue down 15 percent and the governor proposes a 15 percent cut to the Virginia Commission of Arts, which helps fund the center.
"I'm getting a double whammy," says director Michael Dowell. "How do we continue our mission without funding?"
At the gallery, 300 juried artisans– "the best of the best," he says– have their work for sale. "We can't expect to get everything we need for quality of life from a big box retailer," insists Dowell. "You can tell the difference in a coffee mug from an artisan and one that's mass produced."
Dowell points out that at the height of World War II, Winston Churchill still funded cultural spending. "If a country under siege loses its culture, it loses its will to fight," says Dowell.
Charlottesville-area jewelry maker Debra Abbott wants people to support local artists with the same enthusiasm that they embraced a buy-local campaign to support farmers. A regular at the City Market and Holiday Market, Abbott saw her sales in the fourth quarter– usually her busiest time– plummet 50 percent.
"Piedmont Environmental Council has done a great job to promote local foods, and I'm thrilled people have made that connection," says Abbott. "I'm not sure that's translated to the arts community. Local boutiques want to buy jewelry from New York and Martha's Market– you can't get in there as a local person."
She, too, observes the costs to the community of shuttered galleries and fewer places for artists and craftsmen to sell their work.
"If the arts decline, what does that do to our soul, to our spirit?" she says. "Even in the worst of times, we've got to have beauty in our lives."