It could be a script for an upcoming play: financial trouble drives a small-town theater to make an impassioned plea to town folks to save it from extinction.
However this is exactly the situation ART Station Theatre Company and Contemporary Art Center in Stone Mountain finds itself in, and it is fighting for its survival.
According to David Thomas, president and founder of the ART Station, the company is currently running a $90,000 deficit, some employees have not been paid for more than a year and bank loans now exceed $130,000. Rusty McKellar, chairman of the Board of Trustees and an employee of Pattillo Construction Company, said that “ART Station has lost over 70 percent of its traditional funding sources from the corporate and foundation community. If the community does not rally behind ART Station with financial assistance, ART Station will be forced to temporarily close its doors.”
The arts group has set a deadline of April 15 by which to raise the funds.
“We just need a boost,” said Thomas. “We need a boost really bad.”
Thomas, who also serves as artistic direction, along with Associate Producer and General Manager Michael Hidalgo, are the two employees who have not received a salary for more than a year. Thomas said it has come down to paying the actors or paying themselves, and they chose to pay the actors.
Ironically “attendance at ART Station has never been higher, but unfortunately ticket prices do not cover the cost of operating such a large facility without corporate sponsors and individual giving,” explained Thomas.
Thomas noted that ART Station management realized in fall 2008 that trouble lie ahead. That’s when corporate sponsorships started dwindling. At one time they had as many as 14 corporate sponsors such as Target and Coca-Cola. Now they have six—and many of those are giving significantly smaller awards.
But the economy isn’t the only factor that hurt ART Station. Last year, weather dealt the cultural center an unexpected wallop. The Southern Tour of Ghosts is ART Station’s biggest fundraising event of the year. However in 2008, the storytelling festival was deluged with rain on nine of its 11 nights.
“We lost our shirts,” said Thomas.
DeKalb County has come to ART Station’s aid. According to Thomas, the county, which owns the 19,000-square-foot facility that ART Station operates out of, reworked the lease agreement so that the county will cover utilities and building maintenance. That comes approximately $75,000 annually.
“That’s a tremendous burden off our budget. That will help,” said Thomas.
Pat Wheeler, mayor of Stone Mountain and also an ART Station board member, said, “The contributions that ART Station makes not only to Stone Mountain but to the entire metro-Atlanta area are staggering. The loss of ART Station would be devastating to our community.”
Major programs at ART Station, which serves more than 50,000 patrons annually, include a professional theatre company producing seven theatre productions each year; a five gallery series program producing more than 14 exhibitions each year; arts classes for children and adults; a summer arts camp; a performance company for youth and a performance company for teens; a lunch-time series and senior morning matinee programs; a storytelling festival at Stone Mountain Park as well as outreach programs in the schools.