Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day - A Time to Celebrate Jobs in the Arts

Posted by Bruce Miller
Today, Barksdale and Theatre IV employ 30 arts professionals working in full-time jobs. We employed 39 full time workers just over three years ago. We’ve had to reduce and reorganize staff due to financial pressures associated with the national recession--particularly cuts in funding to the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Thirty seems like a lot of people, and it is. But when you consider all we do (33 different productions, many of them touring throughout Virginia and 32 surrounding states, plus all the ancillary activities), we’re significantly understaffed. Several of our current staff members are carrying the responsibilities of one and a half or two different jobs. Most of our staffers log 50 hours a week, and several routinely exceed 80 hours a week.

In addition to these 30 full-time positions, we employ:
• seven or eight box office and costume shop workers who are paid on an hourly basis,
• four talented interns who work seasonally for weekly stipends,
• a master scenic artist who currently is contracted semester by semester,
• approximately 22 touring actors who keep Theatre IV’s national tour going strong, and
• legions of freelance actors, directors, designers etc whose talents power our mainstage productions.

One full-time staff position is being kept open for a past staff member who is still in recovery from a major illness.

We also budget approximately $20,000 per year for hourly production overhire.

All told, Barksdale and Theatre IV currently invest $1.9 million annually in Virginia’s workforce. If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, then you’re not one of the ones losing sleep every two weeks worrying about how we’re going to meet payroll. There’s no grand fund set aside somewhere to cover these and other expenses. We pay out only what we bring in. To meet budget, we need to sell approximately $70,000 per week in tickets and tour shows, and raise approximately $30,000 per week in contributions. During this recession, meeting these goals has been, and will continue to be, very challenging.

That's why I vigorously support continued state funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Last year, the House initially voted to do away with the VCA entirely, a move that would have put many if not most of Virginia's arts organizations out of business. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Commission was saved, with funding significantly reduced. The funds that Barksdale and Theatre IV are receiving this summer from the VCA are $40,000 less now than they were two years ago.

The arts are a labor intensive industry, which is good for Virginians and the state economy. On average, Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations spend 44.2% of their revenues on labor, 37.2% on other production expenses, 9.8% on facilities, 7.4% on marketing, and 1.4% on state and local taxes and fees. This is a nonprofit industry.

In 2000, Virginians for the Arts, our statewide advocacy group, did an economic impact study in cooperation with the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Virginia Association of Museums. The study was prepared independently by The Wessex Group, Ltd., located in Williamsburg. The findings of the study indicate that a decade ago, arts and cultural organizations comprised a major sector of the Virginia economy.

In 2000, 12,507 Virginians were directly employed by arts and cultural organizations (full-time and part-time). They were paid $157.8 million in salary and benefits. An additional 6,344 full-time Virginia jobs were financed indirectly by the economic impact that arts and cultural organizations have on Virginia’s support businesses and independent contractors. All told, in 2000, $306.6 million was paid to 18,851 Virginia workers by Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations.

Additionally, the 2000 study found that arts and cultural organizations in Virginia annually generate $849 million in revenues for Virginia businesses and $342 million in revenues for Virginia tourism businesses through spending by out-of-state visitors who come to see Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations. That’s a total injection into the Virginia economy of nearly $1.2 billion.

I know, it’s a lot of numbers, and they’re eight years out of date. But they’re important. If we don’t celebrate employment in the arts, nobody will. Many of those who make decisions about state funding simply don’t care about the intrinsic value of the arts, but they might care—they ought to care—about how the arts positively impact Virginia’s economy.

Fiscal conservatives routinely herald "small businesses" as the engine that creates jobs and drives the American economy. And rightly so. Why they fail to include nonprofit arts organizations among the ranks of small businesses is beyond me. The thousands of jobs that we, as an industry, generate each year in Virginia are just as real, just as vital as any other jobs.

We who work in or care about the nonprofit arts sector need to make sure that Virginia's arts jobs are recognized. We need to remember that Labor Day not only marks the closing of our neighborhood pools, plus the beginning of the Virginia public school year and the NFL and NCAA football seasons, it also represents our chance to remind all Virginians that the nonprofit arts sector and its tens of thousands of jobs represent an irreplaceable force in the state economy. The arts are not a frill or a nicety. We are a cornerstone industry, crucial to the Commonwealth and its financial well-being.

--Bruce Miller

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