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[January 25, 2013]
The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., Brian Hicks column
Jan 25, 2013 (The Post and Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Just when we get the symphony back on track, the ballet loses its footing.
These days, the arts just can't catch a break.
Adam Parker reported this week that for the second time in a year, the entire board of the Charleston Ballet Theatre has resigned. The board members quit, at least in part, so they wouldn't be personally liable for about $125,000 in payroll taxes for 2012 that the company just doesn't have.
Honestly, a lot of folks around here couldn't care less about the ballet. For all they know, Swan Lake is a good place to gig flounder. Their idea of art is Willie Nelson strumming an old guitar in the outfield at The Joe.
That is art, by the way.
But Charleston is known for its "vibrant arts community" -- in fact, the Convention and Visitors Bureau may have that phrase copyrighted. That's because the arts are important to everyone in Charleston, not just the wine-and-cheese crowd.
Art economics 101 In 2010, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra was almost out of business.
Since then, the symphony has regrouped, reorganized and is kicking brass. It finished last year in the black. A lot of people hope the ballet can do the same thing, but it's not going to be easy.
Like a lot of these organizations, the ballet depends on donations for 70 percent of its budget. And a lot of folks haven't had a lot of extra disposable money to throw at the ballet, on account of the economy.
Mayor Joe Riley says you can pick your argument for the ballet: It's great for education; it inspires folks, gives artists jobs. But the best reason to support ballet is economics. "This is about quality of life," Riley says. "Quality of a city's arts is one of those things people consider when they want to live someplace. And it's something that businesses look at when looking for new locations to expand." Bingo.
More than reality TV There seems to be some misunderstanding about what companies look for in a city.
Is the ballet going to bring in another Boeing No. But it is one of those elements that shows a city has a little bit of everything. For its size, Charleston has one of the best arts communities in the country. And it makes a difference in luring well-heeled residents and well-heeled corporations.
But some folks don't see it that way. Gov Nikki Haley, after trying to kill the state Arts Commission last year, is now trying to merge it with the State Museum. This, of course, is low-hanging fruit for pandering to fiscal conservatives. It's also the financial equivalent of trying to shore up your household budget by looking through the couch for loose change.
Riley says Charleston has a long heritage of ballet, and "I'm confident the community will continue to have ballet." So maybe the ballet should look to the symphony for a business model, or perhaps some donors will kick in. Something needs to happen.
Because if a prospective business asks what Charleston has to offer in the way of arts, we need to be able to offer more than just cable TV.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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