Late last week, The Southern Theater sent out an email to media and supporters about its financial situation. The West Bank-based performance space had been struggling with monetary issues for years, and in the email, the theater frankly admitted that it would have to shut down if it couldn’t raise $400,000 by April 30.
According to Executive Director Gary Peterson, there has been a steady flow of donations of all amounts since The Southern started the last-chance fundraising effort. Donations have been coming in consistently during business hours, but the $400,000 goal is still a long, long ways off. “It’s a lot of money in a short time,” Peterson says. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’re definitely aware of the challenge.”
The Southern’s former backer The McKnight Foundation withdrew its funding after it was revealed that The Southern had been using money earmarked for performing artists to pay its operational costs. Peterson, who joined the Southern Theater in January 2010 (long after The Southern’s financial issues began, it should be noted), says that the theater’s transparency about its finances should be taken as a sign that it will not happen again.
“We’ve said we need to be accountable,” says Peterson. “Let’s be accountable for our problems regardless of how they came to be.” Should the theater survive, he says, there will be changes to both the staff and the way the theater runs. Several board members are no longer with the theater, and part of the $400,000 would go to hiring a development person whose goal would be to find shows that sell tickets. “If The Southern has erred most grievously, it has been in the realm of presenting acts in a way that don’t make money.”
This does not mean, however, that The Southern intends to change its focus to sure-fire blockbusters if it survives the month. The goal of the theater is to foster new performers, and that goal is not expected to change. “In the ecology of performing arts, the niche provided by The Southern is very important,” says Peterson. “There has to be a place for new artists to develop.”
According to Peterson, the staff is meeting with potential patrons about larger donations, and a final gala fundraising event will be held at the end of the week. Not only could these efforts mean the difference in meeting the goal or not, they could insure the future of The Southern going forward. “There has never been a large base of individual donors for The Southern,” says Peterson. “All of that needs to be built.”
While The Southern focuses on the final week of its fundraising efforts, the following shows have been canceled from its 2011 season:
ICE - April 26
Shara Worden with yMusic - May 4 & 5
Mx. Justin Vivian Bond - May 6
Tandem - June 2-4
The Southern is looking to move some canceled performances to another venue.