“Everyone of them has lost the hotel motel tax. They’ve lost big contributors,” Tumlin said. “I’m worried about every one of them. I think it’s going to take a community effort to keep them all healthy.”
Just as there is a group devoted to helping such nonprofits in the county, called United Arts of Cobb, Tumlin said he wants to create one that would promote and raise funds for the arts and cultural groups in the city.
As a tax attorney, Tumlin said he could prepare the founding documents and obtain IRS approval, but he is looking for three to five people to serve on such a board.
“Because of the vast importance to our cultural, financial, historical and tourism well-being provided by these museums and theaters around the Square, it is time to begin an effort to work for them,” Tumlin said. “In these tough economic times, our efforts for support must be broad, and we must create opportunities for giving.”
On Monday, Theatre in the Square co-founder Palmer Wells issued an SOS to supporters, warning that his group was “undergoing the worst financial crisis of our existence.” The irony, Wells writes, is that while Theatre in the Square is celebrating the beginning of its landmark 30th anniversary season, “we are — quite bluntly put — on the brink of financial disaster.”
Wells announced an emergency drive to raise $225,000 by Oct. 15 through a “Save Your Seat” campaign. For $1,000, supporters can have their name engraved in a plaque attached to the back of one of the seats in the theater.
Raye Varney, Theatre in the Square’s managing director, said their annual budget has fallen from $2.1 million in 2007 down to about $1.5 million now.
“We’ve done two rounds of layoffs, and we’re down to nine full time and a handful of part time,” Varney said. “We’ve cut our operating budget almost 30 percent in the last four years. We’ve taken pay cuts. We’re really trying to work our end of it.”
Varney said Theatre in the Square lost 75 percent of its corporate supporters in the first 18 months of the recession. The good news is that ticket sales have held steady at around 65 percent of the nonprofit’s income, which is higher than the national average of 50 percent, she said.
“It’s just that other 35 percent,” she said. “As a not-for-profit organization, we are eligible for donations, but it’s been tough for all the nonprofits, and a lot of times the arts aren’t as thought of in an economy where we are dealing with empty food pantries, and we certainly understand.”
Dr. Harlon Crimm, who chairs the board of the Marietta Museum of History, said the museum’s finances are equally troubling.
“The museum is in a situation now unlike anything it’s ever been in before,” Crimm said. “We have already had to go into reserves (now at a level of between $140,000 to $150,000 left), but we’re out there trying to do as much as we can in combating the problem.”
Crimm said the museum has eliminated two positions that amounted to about $40,000. The museum is also renting out the ground floor of Kennesaw House for various functions such as weddings. The space can seat between 75 to 100, he said.
The museum leases the three-story Kennesaw House from the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. Crimm said he’s asked the DMDA board to help with rent payments until it gains stability. Last fall, museum officials signed a triple-net lease for the entire 19,298-square-foot Kennesaw House building. The lease calls for payments of $3,750 per month but holds the museum responsible for all expenses, taxes, insurance and utilities. Previously, the museum had only occupied the second and third floors of the antebellum building.
DMDA member James Eubanks said Crimm’s request is under consideration.
“How long can we last?” Crimm asked. “It’s very difficult to say, but we will have to have some reserves, and we will have to do some more reduction of expenses.”