Newton arts programs
to suffer cuts
Group facing shortfall; sales, donations down

COVINGTON - Declining donations and ticket sales will mean significant cuts to programming sponsored by the Arts Association in Newton County.

The Arts Association will have a more than $45,000 deficit in this year's budget and is estimating a more than $100,000 shortfall for the 2009-10 budget, according to Director Buncie Lanners.

Ticket sales and admissions were down 34 percent from Jan. 31, 2008, to Jan. 31, 2009, the Arts Association reported.

"We still have people coming, but it's significantly lower, and I think it's just the amount of disposable income people have," Lanners said.

Also, donations and memberships are down 28 percent. Corporate donations were down 10 percent, but that percentage is expected to increase, Lanners said.

"We've already begun to talk to some of our corporate donors and know that many who have been our most loyal just can't do it," she said.

As a result of the shortfall in funds, the Arts Association will not bring in outside artists to perform in its 2009-2010 concert series.

The Arts Association will continue to host free concerts and performances by its children's groups.

"Our No. 1 goal is to keep our children and outreach programs going," Lanners said.

In addition to the Oxford Singing Children and Oxford Youth Singers, the Arts Association's Young Artists Programs include the annual summertime Creative Kids Camp and the Covington Regional Ballet.

The Arts Association has seen an increase in the number of youth scholarship applications and has implemented a monthly payment plan for parents with participating children, Lanners said.

The Newton County School System is also cutting an annual grant it gives to the organization to fund the artist in residence programs.

With the school system making its own budget cuts, Arts Association programs are more important than ever, said Young Artists Program Director Abigail Morgan Coggin, noting that the programs provide field trips and extracurricular activities for students.

"These programs are too great to have to lose, to have to tell the children in our community that there won't be any more choirs, that there won't be musicals every year, that there won't be ballet," Lanners said. "That is shameful, even in a bad economy."

In tough economic times, companies and individuals typically cut out donations to nonprofits first, she said.

"The thing we have to do is communicate how important these programs are to the quality of life in our community," she said. "This is really too important to end in our community. Even a small gift makes a difference."

The Arts Association has already cut its budget this year by not sending out mailings and marketing materials and reducing expenses for office supplies. The number of full-time employees has been cut from two to one.

Given the shortfall, Lanners acknowledged the 1,200-seat civic center proposed for downtown may not be viable at this time, but said it's still needed in the future.

"No, I don't think the community can support it today. We don't have enough (money) to build it today ... But by the same token I think the worst thing we could do is shelve it forever. We've got to be behind the scenes working so when the economy starts to turn around, we've got our shovels ready to go into the ground," she said.

Lanners encouraged the community to support the Young Artists Programs by attending several upcoming events, including a joint performance by local high school band students with professional musicians Dallas Brass on March 6; the True Colors Youth Art Exhibit at the Newton County Library March 3-27; a performance of Guys and Dolls on April 17-19; and the Covington Regional Ballet's rendition of Sleeping Beauty May 1-3.

For more information on the Arts Association, call 770-786-8188 or visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.