Lowcountry residents probably aren't surprised to learn that local arts organizations are managing to survive, despite the economic downturn, some declines in attendance and budgets that have been severely tested in recent months.
Several groups, including Charleston Ballet Theatre, Charleston Stage and Charleston Symphony Orchestra, announced in recent weeks that big budget shortfalls were threatening their financial solvency. As the economy worsened, other organizations, such as The Village Playhouse, PURE Theatre, Robert Ivey Ballet, Footlight Players and various art galleries, each raised a red flag.
Reaction from arts patrons was swift.
Charleston Ballet is "making significant progress" toward its $180,000 year-end goal, according to Administrative Director Kyle Barnette.
Julian Wiles, director of Charleston Stage, said his organization was about $10,000 shy of reaching its $50,000 year-end goal for a matching grant, and that the company's holiday production of "A Christmas Carol" drew good crowds.
The symphony is closing in on its goal of raising $75,000, to be matched by anonymous donors, according to Emily Rybinski, director of market-ing and public relations. And the CSO exceeded its single-ticket sales goal in December by 27 percent, collecting $71,000 at its six holiday concerts. A special benefit concert organized by musicians garnered more than $13,000 to help pay short-term expenses or bolster the endowment.
While some organizations hope to press on without resorting to major staffing, production or schedule changes, others have adjusted to a new financial reality.
Charleston Stage and Charleston Ballet Theatre have laid off staff and looked for other ways to cut expenses. The symphony moved three upcoming concerts into smaller, more cost-effective venues and modified its performance schedule in an attempt to boost ticket revenues.
Wiles said none of the Charleston Stage productions will be changed or cut because of the budget crunch, and the group's education programs will not be affected.
Charleston Ballet sounded an optimistic note. "Although we are contemplating replacing one of the shows later on in our season, I am pleased to be able to tell you we will not be making any changes to our immediate season through the next couple of months," Barnette wrote in an e-mail. A one-night-only performance of "Carmen" on Jan. 10 has been added to the schedule due to demand, he said.
The Coastal Community Foundation, which administers arts-related grants in eight coastal South Carolina counties, has made 105 grant payments to nonprofits worth $905,000 during 2008, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, according to Marketing and Communications Director Christine Beddia. Two-thirds of the money was distributed since July 1, and most of the payments were directed to organizations recommended by the holder of the fund, Beddia said.
This local generosity mirrors national giving trends. In 2007, nonprofits collected $306 billion, the second-highest amount ever, according to Giving USA Foundation (2005 set the current record at $312 billion).
Charitable donations have increased nearly every year since the 1960s, when Giving USA began recording the data. Even in recessionary years, giving often remains relatively stable or declines only slightly.
Individual gifts make up about 80 percent of all charitable donations, according to Giving USA. In Charleston and other communities that have no Fortune 500 corporations, nonprofits rely heavily on individual patrons.
Local arts organizations, which depend on annual fundraising campaigns and often return repeatedly to loyal supporters, especially when need increases, are taking nothing for granted these days.
The Charleston Symphony, celebrating a successful holiday concert season, issued a press release thanking the City of Charleston and the Coastal Community Foundation for their support.
Wiles said he was "heartened" by the generosity of his donors and already is thinking ahead to next season, when financial concerns are sure to persist.
"We can't take a lot of chances," he said.