Fund-raiser Blues

For boutique organizations like Da Camera and DiverseWorks, who lack the broad subscriber base, generous corporate patrons and formidable fund-­raising machinery of a major symphony or opera company, the situation is even more ­precarious.

"We're very cautiously optimistic," says Da Camera Executive Director Sarah Loudermilk. "We've actually had one of our best years ever for subscriptions; that may be in part because we're offering smaller packages."

Loudermilk says single-ticket buyers are waiting longer to buy tickets for the ­chamber-music society's events — two or three days before events instead of two or three weeks — but they're still coming. On the fund-raising side, though, Da Camera is already feeling a pinch.

"Not so much from individuals, but corporations are being very cautious," she says. "Especially in the banking industry and investment firms. They've been big supporters of ours over the years. Right now I'd say [our fund-raising] is at about $50,000, and our corporate fund-­raising campaign has always hovered around $100,000, so that's a pretty big impact."

Da Camera is already looking at ways to adapt to this new reality. "Next year's not the year to do an extravagant production," Loudermilk says. "We're being conservative in our planning — we may not be bringing in international artists; we may be looking closer to home."

DiverseWorks' grants were committed before the downturn, says Performing Arts Curator and board member Sixto Wagan, so they're insulated from the crisis for now, but the multidisciplinary art center is likewise adjusting its future revenue projections downward.

"Since things are still in flux, they don't want to commit us to anything," he says. "So right now we're really going as bare-bones as possible."

Besides scaling back production values and technical-staff hires, Wagan says DiverseWorks will probably start collaborating more with other organizations to co-produce events "so our few dollars can go a lot farther."

"It's always been our mandate to support artists and their creativity," he says. "So there's never been a change in optimism, it's just [now] we're trying to be as practical as possible, and work with artists so they can be as practical as possible."

If there's a silver lining in all this, it's that when times get hard, people turn to the arts as a source of refuge and solace.

"Artists are really clear on where they are, and are really great about changing an idea or emotion into something other people can experience," Wagan says. "When it comes to times where people are unsure and can't really put it into words, usually artists are the best people to put it out there first."

As we all tighten our belts, unsure when (if ever) things will turn around, let's remember that. Regardless of the economy, artists are one of the most important assets this or any other city has.

So the next time you're bummed out about headlines like "Greenspan: Financial Crisis to Impact U.S. Economy Severely" (Houston Chronicle, October 23) and want to take your mind off your troubles, think twice about plunking down ten bucks for Saw V or Beverly Hills Chihuahua. See what's on tap at DiverseWorks, or check out the opera for the first time. Go to a free Houston Symphony or Houston Ballet production at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Now more than ever, they could use your support.

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