Friday, June 3, 2011

The Southern is still alive

I'm resisting adding "just barely." After posting last week about music director Kate Nordstrum's departure, and wondering aloud this week about the Southern's transparency, I read this afternoon's email from Gary Peterson with mixed feelings.

Peterson has been the executive director; he's stepping down and joining the board. The Southern will now have one full-time employee, Damon Runnals, who has been the production and operations manager since 2008. Earlier this year, the theater set a goal of raising $400,000, which would have allowed it to meet its current and future obligations; it raised just $95,000 from its annual fundraiser and online gifts by donors. There was buzz about the possibility of bigger support but apparently it never materialized.

The "Plan for a Sustainable Southern" projects 40 weeks of "performance activity" and a first-year budget of $165,600. Since 2008, the theater had been presenting 28-47 annual engagements, with a budget of about $1.1 million.

So the budget has been greatly reduced, there's no more artistic staff, and the theater (plus office space) will be available for rent. But the doors will stay open.

There's at least one event that was originally scheduled for fall that I hope will still happen. For now, it's wait and see.


Chris Roberts at MPR spoke with Anne Baker, the Southern's board chair. His headline at MPR News: "The Southern downsizes; becomes a rental facility."

From the article:

"While the Southern is trying to shore up its finances by becoming a rental facility, Baker said that move isn't necessarily permanent. She said it's possible the theater could reassume more of a curatorial role in the future.

"'I think that's the board's hope, that we will be able to move back to a time, once we are stable, and we need to refine strategies for future programming,' she said. 'But that's our hope, that we would be able to do that.'"

It's our hope, too. The Southern has been an incubator, an influencer, a place of surprise and discovery, a stone-arched doorway into plenty of things we wouldn't have seen or heard or experienced here otherwise. Minus the curatorial role, it's just another venue.

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