Arts groups make dollar sense

Baseball fans don't want to think about a possible player strike this summer. It reminds them that money – who's got it and who wants it – underlies the sport they love.

In the same way, fans of the arts – theater, art museums, opera, dance – love the way those arts feed their hearts and minds. They hate to be reminded that without lots of money, it can all go away.

Arts groups are pinched right now, largely through a down stock market. The portfolios of endowments and wealthy patrons that yielded double-digit profits in the 1990s are flat or worse. The cash to keep these groups on stable footings is getting harder to come by.

The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, for example, facing a $500,000 budget deficit, cut musicians' salaries 10 percent and put other staff on a six-week unpaid leave.

To add to the misery, cities and states are reducing their already modest support, too. In Minnesota, Gov. Jesse Ventura cut from the state budget $24 million aimed at building a new home for the Guthrie Theater, a highly regarded regional company. He also cut aid for the Minnesota Zoo and the Minneapolis Children's Theater. California Gov. Gray Davis, the Massachusetts legislature, and the mayors of Boston, Buffalo, and New York City are among those considering slashing arts funding, too.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is trying to get the word out about its dollar-and-cents value. The MFA commissioned a study that showed that as many arts fans visit it each year as go to Bruins hockey or Celtics basketball games combined. The museum pumps $369 million into the state's economy every year.

The study shows that the arts can doubly enrich a community – both culturally and economically.

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