Recession Puts Strain on Las Vegas Arts Scene

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Hard times are putting a strain on a less well-known side of Las Vegas: its cultural community.

With the Las Vegas Art Museum closing last month, other fixtures of the arts community are taking a closer look at the bottom line.

Last week, the Nevada Ballet Theatre announced it was reducing the company from 31 to 22 dancers, laying off several administrative staff members and leaving three positions unfilled.

The company has seen a 20 percent drop in revenues this year, with its $3 million budget down from the previous year's $3.3 million.

The company also rescheduled the season-ending "New Works '09"
performance, orginally set for May 15-17, to next season.

"We felt it was time to act so things didn't get worse," Beth Barbre, executive director of Nevada Ballet Theatre, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

There has been a "healthy conversation" about ticket prices - the average ticket now is $36 - and a possibility of discounts, she added.

"The last thing we want to do is affect the art form, but we are sensitive to the needs of our patrons," Barbre said.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic canceled its traditional July 4 program, but will maintain its slate of other concerts.

It's recovering after the resignation of board President Barbara Woollen and the dismissal of Executive Director Peter Aaronson, which saved the organization his $125,000 salary.

The philharmonic realized further savings when music director David Itkin sliced 10 percent off his $93,500 salary.

"We've had some voluntary cutbacks ... We didn't want to fire anyone," said Jeri Crawford, presiding officer of the philharmonic. "We're looking at different ways of restructuring."

But attendance is robust, Crawford said, noting the sold-out Valentine's Day concert with guest cellist Zuill Bailey.

Nevada Opera Theatre also has felt the economic impact, but not as much as the philharmonic and the ballet, said Eileen Hayes, its founder and director.

Contributions are down over the last two years, she said, but attendance is starting to rebound.

The company hasn't tied itself to a set season of performances and has kept close tabs on production budgets. When it performs, it's at smaller, less expensive venues.

"We're just being very careful what we do," Hayes told the Review-Journal. "We have cut back on guest performers over the last several years. We used to bring in entire sets and costumes, but now we've gotten frugal and rent pieces locally and from Southern California."

At Opera Las Vegas, finances are actually on the upswing because of "prudent and creative fundraising," said Hal West, vice president of marketing and public relations.

Containing expenditures by staging only two productions this year, they considered doubling the top $40 ticket price but nixed the idea.

"In these times people need the arts more than ever," West said.

The 32-year-old Las Vegas Little Theatre, the city's oldest community theater, is operating on a nearly $200,000 budget while maintaining a total of nine productions.

"We're not rolling in money, but we're no worse than in previous years, paying our rent and electricity," said board President Walter Niejadlik.

"We're not doing huge productions costing $20,000 a pop that never have a shot at making money back. It's the undoing of a lot of arts organizations in this town," he said.

As for the Las Vegas Art Museum, its board has retained the name and brands the closure "a hibernation," with hopes of reopening when the economy rebounds.

But Libby Lumpkin, who resigned as the museum's director in December after the board approved a 30 percent budget cut, predicted it might take at least 17 years to build a "serious museum" again.

"I was completely shocked," she said of the museum's closing. "I thought there would be more dismissals of staff, but I honestly did not think the entire institution would collapse."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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