The Brooklyn Academy of Music, faced with funding cuts from City Hall, the Borough of Brooklyn and New York State, is struggling with a potential $1.2 million shortfall in its operating budget. The sudden hit to its pocketbook has forced the institution to cancel a spring engagement by a South African theatre troupe. Other cost-saving measures, include staff layoffs, pay cuts and the suspension of certain programs, are currently being examined.
"We live a very tight life at this institution," BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins told Playbill On-Line Nov. 14. "We don't do a lot of extras. We have very big theatres, we have to put a certain size show on stage. And we need a certain amount of people to run it."
The news of BAM's belt-tightening comes just days after the Public Theater—another arts organization housed in a New York City-owned building—revealed it was laying off 15 percent of its staff. Both institutions were knocked by a sudden 15 percent cut to New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs. The agency is passing on that reduction to the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), a collection of 34 museums, theatres and other loci of art and culture which are housed in city-owned buildings across the metropolis. Among those three dozen are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, BAM and the Public.
But BAM is suffering from much more than the CIG clip. "It's a combination of the 15 percent cut from the city," said Hoffman, "and the elimination of any funding from the Brooklyn borough president; then add a 10 percent cut for the New York State Arts Council, and the state budget as it pertains to the arts is very unclear at this point." Hoffman said the drop in monies totals $1 to $1.2 million, nearly one-twentieth of BAM's $25 budget.
The first victim is a planned South African production of the Medieval Chester Mystery Plays, a historical pageant of religious dramas. The acclaimed show was set to bow at BAM in the spring, but the cost of flying the players in from South African became prohibitive. "It's a really beautiful production, and we regret losing it," said Hoffman. The coming weeks may see BAM taking further steps to prune costs. Hoffman said nothing more had been decided at present, but that everything is being considered. Stabilizing the budget could mean "staff cuts, program cuts, trimming every administrative [branch]." Other possibilities are across-the-board pay reductions. A hiring freeze is already in place.
Hoffman added that she was approaching board members and major donors, asking them to pitch in extra dollars, but doubted such contributions could cover the entire $1.2 million.
The effects of Sept. 11 show no signs of abating in either the nonprofit or commercial theatre worlds. In a study conducted since mid-September, the League of American Theatres and Producers has found that, compared to a similar time period last year, tourist attendance is down 55 percent, while local New York theatre patronage is up 50 percent. Manhattan tourism from the rest of the country is down 13 percent, though the bridge and tunnel crowd has increased by 16 percent.
When it came to ticket sales in October, impulse buying generally won out over long-term planning. Only 15 percent of audience members bought their ducats a month in advance (as opposed to 45 percent in October 2000). Roughly 50 percent of audiences had bought their tickets within a week of attendance.
—By Robert Simonson