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Moments Of Crisis Prompt Creativity

September 28, 2011 1:31 p.m.

The recent economic down turn has impacted not only businesses and individuals but also non-profits and arts institutions. Today we consider how some of San Diego's arts organizations have been dealing with the recession.


Victoria L. Hamilton, Executive Director, City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture

Michael Rosenberg, Managing Director, La Jolla Playhouse

Roxana Velásquez, Executive director, San Diego Museum of Art

Related Story: How The Arts Community Is Weathering The Recession


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. People who work in the arts consider them a necessity, not a luxury. Unfortunately during hard economic times, not everyone shares that opinion am arts organizations in San Diego have been hit by declines in funding from government, corporations, and the general public. Joining me to talk about how San Diego's arts organizations are weathering the economic downturn are my guests. Victoria Hamilton is executive director of the City of San Diego commission for arts and culture. And welcome to the show.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Michael Rosenberg is managing director of the La Jolla playhouse, Michael, good afternoon.

ROSENBERG: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: And Roxana Velasquez is executive director of the San Diego museum of Art. Hello


CAVANAUGH: Victoria, let me start with you. How would you characterize the present economic health of San Diego's art organizations?

HAMILTON: In terms of looking across the country, compared to other cities in the country, San Diego is doing quite well. Last year, the 70 groups that we fund have sold more than five million admissions. We're also seeing -- though we are seeing decreases in all sectors, the biggest increase, though, is individual contributions

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. So tell us what the arts commission does in connection with funding arts and culture groups.

HAMILTON: Sure. We run a number of programs. We have a program called organizational support. And that's the 70 groups that I mentioned earlier. We have a program called creative community San Diego which funds festivals and special projects.

CAVANAUGH: And what sources of funding have you seen shrink? And by how much, if you know?

HAMILTON: Sure. The city's funding has shrunk by about 5% over the past few years, which is really a good news story, again, compared to what's happening around the country. But we are seeing a decline in government and board contributions. But not in the individual contributions

CAVANAUGH: It sounds like what's happening across the country is positively horrible. What have you seen?

HAMILTON: Horrible, I think primarily when we're looking at some of the state arts councils. But an interesting trend though is that more Americans are -- have a priority around personal engagement. And I think the trend in that, you see individual contributions continuing to go up, is seeing people following their passion.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you upon, I would love to get our listeners involved in this conversation. If you have attended a play, if you've gone to an art exhibit, if you've seen some -- a dance recital, music concert, give us a call, tell us the last time you went, what motivated you, and if you're planning to go again soon. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Now, one more question for you, Victoria, before I open this up, and that is you've been through recessions before. Upon but is this one different in character in its length or in the way it's affecting either the city arts organizations?

HAMILTON: I think we are finding that organizations are being very collaborative. They are being very smart in terms of how they're reaching out to their audiences. And that they're putting really great, high-quality product on the stages and in the museums, drawing more people to participate.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me bring in Michael and Roxana. Michael, at the La Jolla Playhouse, how are things these days?

ROSENBERG: Things are pretty good these days. Like a lot of organizations, we've seen attendance numbers go down. But we have seen our supporters be very consistent with their contributions to the playhouse. And I think that we're about to start a musical in the fall, and musicals tend to drive a lot more people to our theatre.

CAVANAUGH: When you say consistent, you have seen a downturn though, haven't you? The levels of funding?

ROSENBERG: There have been some. Corporate contributions have been affected by this economic downturn. And I think what we've seen happen with individual contributions is people tend to make those contributions last minute. They're concerned about the up and down nature because nobody knows what's happening next

CAVANAUGH: And Roxana, at the San Diego museum of art, I'm wondering what you're seeing in terms of funding and donations

VELASQUEZ: Well, yes. I am brand-new. But I already have been here for one year. And I can tell you that every art organization in my mind before arriving to San Diego, arts are exactly the things that really play an important role in the crisis moments. That is the history of the culture, the history of mankind. We have to turn our heads, it revises what happened in the past. 1929, United States , just remember the type of artists that were working here in the 1929s. What about the San Diego muse young of art? For the last year, I can tell you that our numbers are increasingly important, and they have seen significant increase in the membership and the attendance comparing last summer to this summer. Our attendance has grown 27%, our membership increased 22%, our net profit in the store grow -- had a growth of first% from last year to this year. As Victoria mentioned, individuals have been get giving a lot. At some time in 2008, 2009, we saw some problem and decrease. Today, members have increased their donations, raised their level was donations. And I tell you the San Diego museum of San Diego has done this summer tremendously

CAVANAUGH: Have you worked hard to make that happen? Have you had to change some things and increased your outreach in order to get people to motivate them in this economic climate?

VELASQUEZ: Absolutely. The museum, the team has worked very, very hard for it. But we decided to stay faithful to our mission. We really want to reach the audiences. We are all about excellence. We want to bring the best art to San Diego. We want people to feel proud of having that here in San Diego. But yes, we did not cut programs. On the contrary, we added, we enhanced them. And we saw an incredible attendance. And I can rapidly go through the symposiums. We had 500 people in the symposia, in the lectures. People are willing to fulfill their needs through these events. So we are working hard, but we want to communicate and fulfill the mission that we have with our community

CAVANAUGH: Michael, you mentioned there's a musical coming up in the La Jolla Playhouse schedule. And I'm wondering, what does -- when you look at the bottom line and you see that the money isn't coming in perhaps exactly the way it used to, what kind of decisions do you make as an arts organization about where to go? Do you go to the risky direction or some place else?

ROSENBERG: Like Roxana said, you go to what's the most excellent. You find those works of art that have the highest quality, and that's what you bring to San Diego. That's what you create here in San Diego. Because that's what drives the audience, that's what really shows the audience that you do matter. So not only has that sharpened our focus on the mission of the playhouse, to find new working take risk, do pieces of theatre that are changing, that create a dialogue about politic, religion, race. But it's at the same time, it's forced us to really reengage with the San Diego community as a whole, expanding our education programs, expanding the engagement programs that give audiences more opportunity to meet the artists, to talk about the art, to experience these works of theatre in different ways

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Victoria, are in San Diego when there's -- people are battling for the arts dollar, do arts organizations in San Diego tend to bond together? Or do they become more competitive?

HAMILTON: Oh, absolutely bond together. There are budget hearings every year. They're very well attended. The message is clear. We speak with a single voice. Mayor Jerry Sanders now doesn't even need talking points. He understands it, the importance of art to our local economy, to the jobs, 7,000 jobs for the 70 groups that we fund. And a boom to cultural tourism development

CAVANAUGH: Some people listening I think might be thinking the arts are simply going to have to take a backseat until this economy improves because people are budgeting out things they don't need, and sometimes what they don't need is to spend money fair theatre ticket or an exhibit. How would you respond to that kind of thinking I'm wonder something and let me start with you, Michael?

ROSENBERG: I think you respond in a couple of different ways. In a very macro-way, every major city in the world has a vibrant, healthy, dynamic arts culture as a part of it. And for San Diego to be a world-class city, we have to have a world-class art system here. And at the same time, you look at individuals and say how do you escape in how do you think about -- how do you change what's going on in the arts in your community?

CAVANAUGH: Let me did you, Roxanne. And I would invite you to that the front seat. Not the backseat. You do not do that. That is the first error that we or maybe most of us could commit. It's proven models all around the world. Europe, when the crisis are there, you open the entrances, you free the entrances. You need to invest in the arts because the arts will promote the study, the education for the best societies. You do not cut creativity. It's proven also by many studies and many surveys that if you cut the arts, and people tend not to think outside the box. You are cutting your next generations. And besides that, art speaks to every one of us. You you don't need to be an art historian or drama expert. It speaks to your senses and fulfills many needs in other ways. So I really invite you to think and to perceive art as a need, not as a luxury. Art really speaks to our soul. But more so, creates better people, more educated people. So therefore better societies. Better American citizens.

CAVANAUGH: We have been very upbeat here. And perhaps rightly so. But Victoria, we have lost the sushi performance organization.

CAVANAUGH: Starlight theatre should S is in bankruptcy. There must be other organizations in San Diego who are really feeling the pinch right now.

HAMILTON: Yes, there are some organizations that are feeling the pinch. But there are sectors of the arts community that are really growing and flourishing. I've been here 20 some years, and the dance community is just, like, grown enormously. Small mid--sized theatre, high quality work, it's really just amazing. This Saturday, we're going to have an event called Fall for the Arts, and it's a gathering of arts and culture community on the Broadway pier. It's going to be a celebration. I gave -- working with the arts community, gave them the idea a couple months ago, and they said are you kidding? We have over 60 groups that are going to be there on Saturday. Lots of family fun things to do, and live sword fights and juggling and food instruction. So that's a demonstration of the community that really knows how to work together, how to celebrate what they've got to offer, and come out in big numbers for side Saturday.

ROSENBERG: I think there's also been real growth in the San Diego arts community as well. If you look at what's happened with moo hello, the growth of that company over time, divisionary and ion taking over a theatre speak, what's happened at mala shock. These are all organizations that have grown in healthy, dynamic ways, and even I think at the larger organizations as well. You look at the renovation that The Old Globe pulled off to their courtyard area, which is stunning. You look at the fact that La Jolla, we're about to have five shows running in New York City at the same time. All of those shows were born here out of the San Diego arts community. While there are certainly some struggles, I think there's also a lot of really positive examples of the good work going on here.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to ask you one more time because I don't have it on my paper, so Victoria, if you could tell us one more time when that festival is taking place?

HAMILTON: Sure. It's this Saturday from 11 to 4:00 and it's free.

CAVANAUGH: And where is it?

HAMILTON: Broadway pier.

CAVANAUGH: Terrific. That's wonderful. You've been such passionate and articulate spokesmen for the arts community. Victoria Hamilton, Michael Rosenberg, and Roxana Velasquez, thank you all so much.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

ROSENBERG: Thank for having us

VELASQUEZ: Thank you.