After a dozen years as a university and regional performing arts center, the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is making a few small adjustments to its staff and programming. According to this article, and an announcement on Monday by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Chancellor:
The Weidner Center will lay off half its staff and get out of the programming business…. Nine top positions, including executive director, general manager, stage mananger, and director of development, will be eliminated.
The center also will turn its focus to campus and community arts performances, speaker series and educational programming….
The reason for the radical shift? The facility’s role as a professional presenting organization of touring Broadway, performing arts, and entertainment was no longer economically sustainable. Subscriptions had dropped (by nearly 80 percent), and the margin on even the most popular touring Broadway was being eaten by higher promoter costs. Also in the mix was a brand new performing arts center in Appleton, just 40 miles away. According to the University press release:
The financial picture changed even more drastically than expected due to a decline in quality new Broadway product, changes in funding models and increased local competition for the discretionary entertainment dollar.
The combination of factors would have left a $2 million hole in the operating budget, with not much hope of filling it.
The exodus of the Weidner Center from professional presenting is yet one more indicator that the economic model of such facilities is getting squeakier every day. You can read more about my personal perspective on this trend in the current group discussion in the Hessenius Group (scroll down the page a bit to find it).
UPDATE: New Jersey is having a related conversation, as covered in the Star-Ledger: When should cities and states stop building performing arts centers?