The Creative Economy: New program makes arts and culture affordable to all
LENOX — For the leaders of Shakespeare & Company, it's all about forging closer ties with the community and encouraging lower-income families to attend shows at steep discounts.
The Lenox-based troupe is among 13 Berkshire arts organizations and more than 100 statewide that are opening their doors to holders of state-issued EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards at nominal prices. The goal is to provide equal access to the arts, said Shakespeare & Company's Managing Director Adam Davis in a recent interview.
"This fits right in with what we're doing, helping to bring barriers down," Davis said. "We've built our reputation in the Berkshires through education, our work in the schools, our Fall Festival and Riotous Youth summer programs. On top of that, our actor-audience relationship, how do we connect with the people coming to see our shows?"
The theater is offering $5 tickets toEBT card holders, subject to availablity, for its upcoming season which begins May 24 and ends in November.. The program, "EBT Card to Culture", is a cooperative effort with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Baker-Polito administration. It was rolled out in the Berkshires last fall after a trial run in eastern Massachusetts.
Other participating local arts organizations include the Berkshire Theatre Group, Berkshire Pulse, the Boston Symphony (which will offer reduced-price tickets for cardholders at Tanglewood this summer), Chester Theatre Company, Chesterwood, Clark Art Institute, Hancock Shaker Village, Mass MoCA, the Norman Rockwell Museum, The Mount and the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
"With more than 70 percent of our seats sold last year, we wanted to make sure we still had capacity to give, so if seats are available, people can access them and use them," said Davis, referring to Shakespeare & Company. "This shows that there are different ways that an organization can help support those who can't get a ticket at our regular prices."
Tickets range from $25 to $75 at the theater company's two indoor and two outdoor stages, but full-time Berkshire residents can obtain 40 percent discount for most performances except those on Saturday nights. Teachers and active members of the military are eligible for 25 percent reductions and seniors age 65 and older receive 10 percent off.
"Ticket prices for arts events can sometimes be prohibitive," Davis said, "so the idea is for us to knock down those barriers and try to open up the doors to everyone. When this program came to light, why wouldn't we have wanted to be a part of it?"
Noting that the EBT card traditionally has been used for food-stamp benefits at grocery stores, Davis voiced the hope that all Berkshire arts organizations participate in the opportunity.
"We believe it's a way to help bring our work to the community and have the community be part of us," he said. "We want to be able to make those connections as much as possible."
At Shakespeare & Co., discounted tickets can be reserved by calling 413-637-3353, going online to shakespeare.org) or by going to thebox office at 70 Kemble St.. EBT cardholders will be asked to show their cards at the box office when picking up tickets. Processing fees will be waived.
The new program's highest priority is to forge closer ties with the community, Davis said.
"[Artistic Director] Allyn [Burrows] and I together believe we will only thrive if we're working in conjunction with the overall Berkshire community, whether it be Lenox, Lee, Pittsfield," he said. "It's very, very important to us. Anything we do with this campus or with this community, first Lenox because that's where we're based, has to be Berkshires-centric."
Shakespeare & Co.'s Board of Trustees recently conducted a retreat that included discussion of strategic and long-term goals for the performance, educational and professional training programs and the resulting operational needs of the company, said Davis, who's approaching his one-year anniversary as managing director.
A native of Weymouth outside Boston, Davis previously served as the long-time managing director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and company manager of the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.
He credits Burrows' artistic leadership for putting the troupe well on its way toward financial stability. "We've had one of our our strongest years in a long time," Davis stated. "It's about being fiscally responsible."
The company expects to produce a modest surplus during the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.
Paid attendance totaled 34,755, yielding performance income of $1.23 million. Earned revenue — ticket sales, education and training programs — produce nearly 60 percent of Shakespeare & Co.'s total income. The rest comes from contributions, which include individual donations, support from national, state and local foundations and corporate sponsorships.
In random order, Davis said his top priorities for this year are sustaining financial stability, deepening impact and connection with the community and maintaining or enhancing artistic programming, including training, performance and education.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-2551.
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