The final vote has come and gone, and the City of Germantown has chosen by a 5-0 budget vote, not to restore the $70,000 in funding that supported the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's educational programing.
"This vote will have devastating consequences on our ability to provide education programming for students in our community," TSC's founding director Dan McCleary wrote in a prepared statement. "Its impact will be felt immediately as we begin to re-program our upcoming sixth season, which we hope to be able to announce to you shortly. Its impact also will be felt this year as we undertake a review of our organization's long-range planning."
Publicly-assisted arts organizations are easy targets in budget battles, and the recently cut TSC is, at least, in good company. The Iris Orchestra, helmed by conductor Michael Stern, was birthed at GPAC in 2000 with the help of a $200,000 grant from the City of Germantown. In 2007 the IRIS Foundation was established to transition into the private sphere. And the beat goes on.
Obviously this isn't good news for a scrappy professional company that has, in its short history, produced shows, deployed teachers, conducted camps, and developed all the trappings of an institution with staying power. If the company's last gala fundraiser is any kind of indicator, there is quite a bit of private support for McCleary's troupe, and a hero in this saga may yet emerge. Also, to play Devil's advocate for a moment, and with all due respect for Mr. Shakespeare, $70,000 is a fair chunk of change for a city to spend in the service of any one author, primarily. It's also difficult to determine what kind of branding value the inclusively-named Tennessee Shakespeare Company provided, especially with many of the company's recent performances drawing audiences, and their loose dollars, to locations inside the I-240 loop.
So, does this budget cut represent the end of the world? Maybe for TSC's education program as it exists now, but McCleary ends his note with an encouraging word: "Onward."
It's helpful to remember that the new $14.5-million-dollar Playhouse on the Square was built with zero city assistance, and in all likelihood POTS's long capital campaign will finally come to a close at the end of this month. It's possible that, as this massive effort winds down, new sets of fundraising opportunities will be created.
On a related note, with a million promised by the City of Memphis, it will be interesting to monitor the progress of the new Hattiloo Theatre, which broke ground earlier this month. In the meantime, TSC's McCleary, and Hattiloo's founding director Ekundayo Bandele might want to get together for a drink.
I'd also be interested to hear what interested and concerned parties think about what's happened, what it means, and what's next.