Monday, December 15, 2008

Give Joy!

I'm making my New Year's resolution early this year – to give gifts that will bring my loved ones real joy and a wonderful experience, not just more stuff to clutter up their self-storage units or some landfill.

As a member of the Development Team here at Imagination Stage, I often have the pleasure of watching children with their parents, extended family or friends enjoying one of our professional shows in the Lerner Theatre, a student show in the Reeve Theatre or a 'sharing' at one of our classes. The joy and delight on their faces as they watch and as they leave the building is a daily reminder of why we do what we do at Imagination Stage. I often hear later from parents and grandparents that they had a wonderful discussion with their children on the way home, spurred by what they saw in the play or did in class.

This is 'serious fun' - children learn important ideas and concepts from our plays, and those who take our classes or summer camps learn skills as well. But they may not notice, because they're having so much fun! Parents notice, though, and as children grow up, they appreciate what they learned here as well.

We know that theatre teaches kids many skills that are useful in other endeavors in life – self-discipline, how to collaborate with peers and leaders, self-confidence, the ability to listen to one's heart and mind and express oneself clearly; you get the idea. We hear this from professional educators and politicians as well. Here is a video clip from Gov. Martin O'Malley regarding the importance of the arts in education.

The current economic challenges that the whole country is facing have already led to a cut of $75,000 from public funding sources to Imagination Stage, and we have worked very hard to reduce our expenses accordingly. Further reductions in funding may come, but we are fighting to keep all our programs in place.

We are grateful for the support of all our friends. Join them, and give joy not only to your own loved ones, but also to the children and families of the entire region!
--Barbara Rollins, Director of Annual Giving

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Not-for-profits and the Economy

As we listen to the news, we hear the word “bailout” approximately every five minutes. The banks had very bad judgment and they are receiving a bail out; the automakers came to Washington for a second time last week to request a 25 billion dollar bailout for, essentially, poor planning and bad management.

Yet our society is also dependent on the “NGOs,” the nongovernmental organizations (not-for-profits), to teach, to enlighten and to care for its citizens. So, as the economy tanks because of poor management and oversight by the government and for-profit companies, the not-for-profits that support Americans every day are being hurt in the fall out. The State of Maryland recently cut state arts funding by 15% with promises of more cuts in the future. The state cuts were across the board – education, social programs, government programs – the essential infrastructure of our society. So, where is the bailout for the not-for-profit sector? Unlike automakers, community nonprofits have no ‘fat’ to cut to balance a budget. Services or staff are the only things to go.

Not-for-profits are intertwined with every aspect of society and are pinched, proportionally, the hardest. As Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group, points out – “when the stock market drops, institutional investments and individual investments drop – (this results in) a direct hit on the contributed income of an organization; as people watch the value of their earnings and retirement shrink, they are less likely to spend money for a theatre ticket or fundraiser. As unearned and earned income drops, institutions are hit by the credit crunch – borrowing for facility improvements or accessing lines of credit will become increasingly difficult. The inability to borrow for the short term could have serious consequences.”

At Imagination Stage, we are taking the economic downturn very seriously. We have cut our budget by 10%. We have cancelled three student productions, increased earned income offerings, and are furloughing employees while instituting a hiring freeze. We have made a commitment to be strategic and lean in our program plans for 2010 – our 30th anniversary. We have likewise re-committed to our mission – theatre and arts education programs which nurture, challenge, and empower young people of all abilities-- we will continue to find ways to serve our constituency.

Whether it’s Imagination Stage or your neighborhood arts center, please be aware – we may be smiling and our facility’s doors are still open – but behind the scenes it is a serious time with tough decisions all around. Be supportive: donate what you can; volunteer when you can; or simply be there.

By Bonnie Fogel and Brett Crawford


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