The economic recession in the first few years of the millennium had a profound impact on the health of mid-sized NP cultural organizations – smaller and larger ones were more flexible or better funded and able to survive easier. Although the number of NP performing arts organizations increased by 80% between 1982 and 1997, double the growth rate for for-profit performing arts organizations, real revenues for all disciplines aside from opera declined. This is indicative that the majority of these new organizations were small, and that data is from before the recession. Professional orchestras, numbering around 350, had 17 closures in roughly the same time period. It is true that many of those closures were summarily responded to with new openings and a rejuvenated effort, but it is clear that the industry as a whole – except for small scale organizations, is not a growing one. Large institutions faced record deficits in 2002 and 2003, but most had the resources to survive. Salary freezes, cutbacks in programming and closures were the order of the day for mid-sized organizations during those two years. The shift is clear against the average city’s theatre, symphony, and ballet companies, and for large regional culture icons and small all-volunteer organizations. The clichés of “the graying of the audience” and the apathy of baby boomers compared to their parents are a large part of this squeeze on the middle, but those two reasons themselves are symptoms of the overall cultural shift away from focused venues selling tickets to specific, old-world artistic traditions. What mid-sized organizations are not having problems are those that mix mediums – Broadway is the clearest example, and probably opera’s similarity to it explain its hold. Most cities are now more focused on having performing arts centers that present not only numerous types and organizations with traditional products, but which supplement this with rentals to popular, for-profit arts and entertainment. It is the most direct way for a popular art form to subsidize a fine or traditional art form – the rock band pays rent to sell out a house so that the NP house owner can present ballet the next day to a half-full house. Betting on single-disciplined organizations has become a losing battle for most mid to small sized cities and regions; betting on cultural and performance centers makes more sense. In a way it follows the mini-mall, super-center, one-stop-shop ethos created in the American cultural and economic landscape over the past few decades. It is in a real sense a consolidation of venues to more efficiently promote both new and old, for-profit and not-for-profit, cultural events.
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