Commentary: A slowdown in construction of new U.S. arts centers?

Barbara Jepson, The Wall Street Journal, 9/14/11

More than 360 performing arts centers were constructed in the U.S. alone from 1994 to 2008. But the cultural construction boom in North America has slowed. Even before the U.S. financial crisis of 2008, Santiago Calatrava's $300 million design for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was scrapped in favor of a plan to erect a more modest structure. Industry skeptics doubt it will be built at all. Lingering economic malaise has slowed or scaled back projects in Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Fayetteville, Ark. Is this merely a lull in a continuing trend? Or are we seeing the last gasp of major performing arts center construction for a while? Many of the cities that wanted better halls have completed them. And reports of economic distress among these new venues have caused other communities to think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. "The new halls generate more red ink than the old ones," says former arts consultant Adrian Ellis, executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. One particularly troubling discovery is that the upswing in construction took place during a time of dwindling audiences. A 2008 study by the NEA showed that between 2002 and 2008, the percentage of U.S. adults attending classical music events declined 20%; comparable opera attendance dropped by about one-third. The arts centers erected in the past two decades have brought cultural enrichment to communities throughout North America. The best of them have already redefined the look and feel of the traditional concert halls for decades to come. Overseas, construction proceeds apace. Time will tell if there will be many more built here.

 

Completion of Tate Modern's extension delayed due to funding issues

BBC News, 9/8/11

The Tate Modern [museum's] extension will not be fully open in time for the 2012 Olympics, with 64 million still needed to complete the project. Tate bosses said they had raised "70% of the total funds" and were confident the rest will be found. The first phase of the development -- one of the most ambitious fund-raising projects in the art world -- will open on schedule next summer. The second phase is now expected to be completed in 2016. "We will raise this money," said Lord Browne, Chairman of the Tate Trustees. He said that work on the 11-story structure was continuing "in bits and pieces... to make sure that we are sufficiently prudent. If we do not raise another penny, we can stop and wait."  Last year the gallery's Government funding was cut by 15%, although Chancellor George Osborne pledged continuing support for the extension. But financing the extension is only half the battle. Once the building work is complete, money will have to be found to fund the day-to-day operations of the newly enlarged gallery. Tate director Nicholas Serota said that would come from several sources. "We will need public money, we will need private money, but we believe we have a very good case. The government will listen, as they have done before, but we are not complacent about that."

 

Commentary: How to avoid a strip-mall future for the arts sector

Diane Ragsdale, ArtsJournal blog Jumper, 8/22/11

It seems that more than a few overleveraged and underperforming professional nonprofit arts organizations need to both better differentiate themselves and hold themselves to higher artistic standards; to right-size their institutions and reduce fixed costs given the amount of income they can reasonably expect for the forseeable future; and to provide more time, attention, and resources to artists and to the development, production, and thoughtful promotion of artistic works. I'd much rather live in a community with a sustainable number of boutique arts organizations than one with a deluxe mall featuring four high-end department-stores (the 'flagship' orchestra, theater, opera, and ballet companies) that suck up the majority of the resources and a bunch of strip malls made up of undercapitalized retail chains and mom-and-pop shops that either saw their best days in 1985 and haven't been able to make improvements since, or were formed in recent years and (while perhaps promising) are struggling for attention, customers and capital. I seriously fear that the strip mall nonprofit arts sector is our future. There are arts boutiques out there, but in many cities they are few and far between and seem endangered. How and why so many arts organizations in the US have grown to unsustainable levels in recent decades is a topic that requires more reflection than I can give in a blog post. However, I will say this: it often seems that capacity building in the arts sector is (1) aimed primarily at securing the administrative futures of arts organizations and (2) resulting in an erosion of quality and distinction in artistic processes and experiences, today. I by no means wish to suggest that the answer to an overbuilt sector is to starve it into a more sustainable state; but it is reasonable to think that we need to seriously rethink how existing resources are distributed (within and among institutions).

 

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An aggressive expansion of cinema chain ends in trail of failed theaters

Matt Clark, Scripps Howard News Service/Naples Daily News, 8/23/11

A six-month investigation found that James Duffy or his companies have been sued at least 69 times and been ordered to pay at least $24.6 million in judgments since 1982 for refusing to pay all kinds of bills. Once the proprietor of a successful franchise business, Duffy's enterprise devolved over decades into one that has left a trail of unpaid bills, failed theaters and fraud allegations across the country. The investigation linked Duffy to 88 theaters in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, California, North Carolina and 21 other states. Fifty-eight of those theaters either never opened or were open less than three years. No evidence of Duffy ever being charged with a criminal offense was found, but in recent years, Duffy's business has convinced property owners to pay millions of dollars up front for the construction or renovation of theaters.  Contractors who should have been paid with the fronted renovation money went unpaid, as did investors, lenders, film distributors and even some of the lawyers who represented Duffy or his companies when they were sued. Meanwhile, Duffy is living in an upscale Atlanta condominium. Duffy, 64, went into business with his brother John in 1975. They opened Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, a combination bar, restaurant and movie theater franchise business near Orlando. [It] soon became a national franchise of theaters offering patrons beer, wine and pub-style food as they watched new or recently released movies. The brothers were driven to go public with their company and moved to Atlanta to start an aggressive expansion. In 1981, TIME magazine wrote that the brothers' idea "may be a shot to stimulate the theater industry." For the first 20 years or so, business was good. At least 20 theaters opened by the end of 1992. But the success ended when the Duffys' aggressive business expansion, fueled in part by not paying bills, led to a rash of lawsuits that slowly piled up behind the Duffys' silver screens.

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