The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford has gotten a miserly contribution of a mere $37,000 on average every year for more than a decade from its neighbors across the street at the state Capitol.
That ranks Connecticut's largest performing arts center dead last among its peers around the nation in state operational support. Those venues averaged $2.9 million each in fiscal 2005.
The state's stinginess is putting the institution in a precarious spot. The Bushnell has asked much of its generous donors since the 2002 expansion that doubled its offerings to 950 events a year. It is now plunging into its $18 million endowment to pay off $2 million in bills this year.
The Bushnell may have to resort to program sacrifices that should be unthinkable for one of the premier theaters in the state.
The legislature and the governor must get the Bushnell on sound footing by retiring its $15 million debt and dedicating a respectable amount to its yearly operation. Connecticut would then shed its embarrassing distinction of being last on the list of states supporting their major performing arts centers.
The Bushnell has done its part in raising money from private sources and in coming up with ingenious new revenue sources. It ranks high among its peers in foundation support and sponsorships.
And the legislature has been generous to other theaters. The Stamford Center for the Arts can count on a budget line-item of more than $1 million a year. The Palace Theatre in Waterbury gets $860,000 annually. Also enjoying special state subsidies are the Mark Twain House, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport.
The Bushnell, in contrast, has to compete with several institutions for the small amount it receives every year from the state arts commission.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell tried to funnel the state's cable tax revenues into an annual pool of $10 million - four times the current arts budget (not counting bonding or line items for pet projects) - to be parceled among arts groups under a merit system. The Bushnell stood to finally get its proper share. But the plan died in the legislature.
The arts in Connecticut need a decent, reliable stream of money and a fair way of distributing it so it doesn't end up mostly in the hometowns of political leaders.
Until that day comes, the state must help the deserving Bushnell. The magnificent theater has been shortchanged for too long.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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