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Giving and the Utah Shakespearean Festival.


Theatres, symphonies, operas, dance organizations, and other arts groups across the country are struggling financially; many have even closed their doors in recent months. Nationwide, corporate support of the arts grew less than the rate of inflation in 1990, by far the smallest increase in five years. In Utah, many of our major arts organizations hold large, public fund-raisers to keep themselves solvent. Yet in Cedar City, at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, growth and quality continue, seemingly without effort.

Jyl Shuler, development director at the festival, is quick to point out two things about the festival, however, that may not be evident to the average playgoer. First, the festival is, and always has been, financially solvent. Second, and of more concern to Shuler, the festival - if it is to realize its dreams of growth and if it is to keep ticket costs down - must begin to tap more fully the one source which keeps most arts organizations' doors open and stages lit: charitable donations.

Shuler, who has been with the festival only about 18 months and who is its first full-time development person, is already succeeding in this area. In fact, charitable donations to the festival have increased 70 percent in those 18 months.

The festival currently receives only 15 percent of its operating budget from private, corporate, and foundation gifts. It raises 73 percent of its revenues from ticket sales (estimated to be $1.24 million this year). Most arts organizations are relying on ticket sales for only 25 to 50 percent of their budgets. "This must change for two reasons," says Shuler. "We need the money to grow, and we need money to keep our ticket prices within the range of those we want to serve."

When Shuler talks of growth, she is talking mainly of the Utah Shakespearean Festival's Center for the Performing Arts, an entire block of theatre and Shakespearean buildings devoted to performing and studying the works of Shakespeare and other masters. The center was started two years ago with the opening of the Randall L. Jones Theatre, and fundraising is now ongoing to finish the project by 1977. The other two areas of ongoing fundraising are yearly operations and adding to the limited endowment fund.

"We are really starting to make our presence known in the corporate community," says Shuler. "It used to be a real hit-and-miss proposition. Now our efforts are coordinated, and we are having some success." For instance, Shuler cites this year's production sponsors - Utah Power and Light, Geneva Steel, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, KUED-TV, and the Color Country Pontiac Dealers - as examples of corporations and foundations that support the festival.

Several things, however, have made Shuler's task more difficult, such as letting people know that the festival needs them and their financial support. "We have to sell ourselves. A lot of people and corporations don't realize we need the money," she says.

The second difficult element to fund-raising is the location of the Festival. Not only is it in Utah, but it is in a rural part of Utah. "The state is a little bit like the bumblebee," says Shuler. "It's not supposed to fly. It's not supposed to have a great symphony, great ballet, great opera, great theatre, or a great Shakespeare festival. But it does, and that is both good and bad for fund-raising." It is good, she says, because Utah has an excellent reputation around the country as a place with a people who support the arts. In fact, according to a Non-Profit Times/Opinion Research Corp. survey, Utah residents are rated third in the nation in their willingness to financially support the arts. But it is bad because competition for the dollars is very keen among the various organizations. With the Utah Shakespearean Festival located off the beaten track, that competition is even more sharp.

But perhaps the major reason the festival hasn't received its share of charitable donations in the past has been a lack of awareness. "But that is changing," concludes Shuler. "We are making ourselves and our needs known, and businesses, foundations, and individuals are beginning to respond generously. The Festival is now being seen not just as a quality arts organization, but as a business worthy of support, a business that produces art - theatre, excitement, and magic."

This year's Shakespearean Festival opens July 1 and runs through September 7. It will present Ben Johnson's Volpone and Shakespeare's Hamlet and Twelvth Night in the Adams Theatre. Also scheduled in another theatre are George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. For ticket information call 586-7878.

Bruce Lee is publications director for the Utah Shakespearean Festival.
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Author:Lee, Bruce
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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