It's no secret that budget constraints impact artistic endeavors. For iTheatre Collaborative, it’s a reality played out in the recent decision to scrap a show planned for its current season. After not receiving a $5,000 grant they’d hoped for, the theater company decided to cancel Port Authority, which was scheduled for October 16 to 31 on the Kax Stage at Herberger Theater Center.
Since iTheatre's first season in 2003-04, the company has performed works by several renowned playwrights, including Steven Dietz, Suzan Lori-Parks, Moises Kaufman, Tracy Letts, Edward Albee, David Mamet, and Rajiv Joseph. The official mission statement says they’re all about “distinctive theatre that cultivates the visceral, innervating and divergence experiences intrinsic to live performance.” Think cool and contemporary, not tired old works trotted out far too often by some of their peers.
For several years, iTheatre Collaborative received a general operating support grant of $5,000 from the City of Phoenix. It’s a big deal for a small theater company, says Chris Haines, artistic director for iTheatre Collaborative. Their 2014 budget was about $40,000, he says. So the math is pretty easy there. Count on $5,000 that falls through, and you’ve taken a hit of more than 10 percent.
Haines says the company applied during the last round of funding, but wasn’t selected. Dwight Waith, Director of Grant Services and Community Initiatives with the City of Phoenix, says iTheatre Collaborative was one of 16 organizations that applied most recently for the City’s "General Operating Support Level III" grant, which is designed for groups with budgets between $25,000 and $250,000. Just eight made the cut, and iTheatre Collaborative wasn’t among them.
Those receiving the $5,000 grant this time around include Alwun House, Cultural Coalition, Grand Canyon Performing Arts, Roosevelt Row, Scorpius Dance Theatre, Shemer Art Center, Young Arts Arizona, and Young Sounds Arizona.
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These grants are designed to “assist organizations that have reached a critical stage in artistic or institutional development, and increase the organization’s accessibility to the general public,” according to information available online from the City of Phoenix arts and culture. Applications are reviewed by panelists comprising community volunteers who consider five criteria: artistic/program merit, capacity building initiatives, administrative ability, public value, and diversity.
Waith notes that during the last 30 years, the City’s Office of Arts & Culture has awarded approximately $19.5 million in arts and culture support. The amount is set each year by the Phoenix City Council. For a couple of years, he says, they had nearly $1 million in grant money available each year. But that got “stalled and cut back by the recession,” Waith explains. “We’ve had highs and lows.” Currently, he says, they have $679,000 budgeted for grant funding.
The decision by iTheatre Collaborative to cancel one of its 2015-16 shows demonstrates the real-world implications for reductions in arts and culture funding. Haines says he’ll be hustling for additional funding sources, including corporations and foundations, so they’re “not so dependent on fickle city government.” And the rest of their season — which includes their Christmas Cabaret with Jeff Kennedy, Passing Strange, and the Velocity of Autumn — is taking place as planned.
“We’re still here,” says Haines. “It’s not the end of the world.”