How local arts groups are faring in hard times

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The Post-Gazette will continually update this listing of what we've lost and what we've gained in the local arts and cultural community in 2009. Do you know of other cutbacks or expansions on the scene? Please let us know by sending an e-mail to magazine@post-gazette.com. Include the name of the arts group and the facts of the cuts or gains, plus a link or phone number for verification if one is available.

Organizations and how they're coping with the economic downturn.

THEATER/DANCE

• The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which funds the PNC Broadway series, Pittsburgh Dance Council and Trust Presents, cut its programming budget by 18 percent. Trust president Kevin McMahon said there would be a "noticeable decline in the number of shows on our stages." The Trust also laid off 10 employees, left six vacancies unfilled and postponed a planned half-billion dollar development Downtown.

• City Theatre's upcoming season will feature eight productions instead of this year's 10. A budget reduction of up to 25 percent may mean using fewer actors. Its endowment lost $100,000 in the first six months of the fiscal year.

* • The Pittsburgh Public Theater's budget next year will be 10 percent smaller. PPT director Ted Pappas said the savings will come in ways that "don't show to the audience" -- attrition, consolidation, renting props, costumes and equipment to and from other regional theaters. Thus, he said, the coming 35th season will feature the same number of plays using even more actors.

• The Civic Light Opera cut expenses by $500,000 through job attrition and consolidation, and has selected some shows with smaller casts. Its $4.5 million endowment is down 22 percent.

• The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh will have a 40 percent smaller budget for its coming season, with three productions instead of four. It's also chosen shorter pieces that can be performed in smaller spaces, and in partnership with other groups.

• The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's endowment is down by 40 percent to $6.5 million, but that fund accounts for only 3 percent of the operating budget. The ballet is responding by leaving vacant the office of development director and choosing lower-cost, high box-office ballets for next year such as "Swan Lake" and "The Sleeping Beauty."

MUSIC

• The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra cut 11 administrative jobs and dissolved its chamber orchestra series, which had its final concert yesterday. An unusually frank letter to constituents said that subscriptions have grown but the endowment has shrunk to the lowest level since 1997.

• River City Brass Band's 28 unionized musicians and seven administrative employees took a 15 percent pay cut through June 2010, and the group will have fewer rehearsals beginning in the fall.

MUSEUMS

• The Carnegie Museums of art, natural history, science and the Warhol have seen their endowment drop by $102 million. They have reduced their overall $60 million budget by 12 percent, including benefit cuts and three layoffs; President David Hillenbrand says more are coming. He added that no changes would be visible to the public.

• The Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center, responding to three cuts in state funding in six months, reduced its budget 25 percent, laid off 12 people and closed its library and archives one day a week.

• The Fort Pitt Museum has been recommended for closure by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission as the state wrestles with red ink.

FESTIVALS

• The Three Rivers Arts Festival trimmed a week from its 17-day schedule. In January, it ended its 49-year affiliation with Carnegie Museums, which already had eliminated the festival's two top positions. The event is now a program of the Cultural Trust.

* The Pittsburgh Folk Festival, one of the city's oldest cultural events, cancelled its 53rd annual edition, which was scheduled for May 1 and 2. The group was unable to raise its $100,000 budget, but hopes the event will return in 2010.

LITERARY

• International Poetry Forum director Sam Hazo said in February that a lack of funding prospects forced him to drop plans for a 44th season. The forum closed out its run on April 14 but is looking for a way to continue in some form.

• Carnegie Library, which operates 19 branches and gets 70 percent of its funding from the Regional Asset District, laid off five people, cut back its job and career center and trimmed two hours of service at the main branch -- even though its 3 million-plus visits last year were a 17-year high.

OTHERS

• WQED Pittsburgh President George Miles took a 30 percent pay cut and six top managers took cuts from 20 percent to 26 percent. The station had an operating loss of $734,000 for the first five months of this fiscal year.

• Preservation Pittsburgh had to let go its paid director, Steven Paul, in March, when the grant that paid his salary was not renewed. "The donor wasn't making enough money to donate again," said board member Rob Pfaffmann.

• Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens eliminated four staff jobs in January and downsized the 72-year-old May Market from three days to two.


News from cultural arts groups is not all negative. Some organizations are adding programs and opportunities. These include:

• The National Aviary on April 22 broke ground on its Helen M. Schmidt FliteZone Theater, which will provide a new space for indoor free-flight bird shows and educational programming. The theater, which will have high-definition video, sound and moveable stages is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010.

• The New Hazlett Theater in March launched a new weekend music/performance/poetry series. The live music spans a range of genres, from jazz, rock, R&B, flamenco and more. Performances are Friday and Saturdays from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sundays from 8 to 11 p.m.



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