The board of the Milwaukee Shakespeare Festival voted to close its doors on Monday night after its top sponsor, the Argosy Foundation, eliminated all funding to the Festival.
The Festival’s website says, “Due to the current financial climate, the Argosy Foundation has eliminated support from Milwaukee Shakespeare in order to put itself in the best position to continue to grow and support the community in the future.” Is that a nice way of saying “the arts aren’t important enough to us to foster its growth in times of need”? The festival showed the most growth this past season, things were looking up. Theatrical companies that fail are not uncommon, but when they seem to be doing things right, the tragic loss of an arts institution increases.
This blogger believes that the arts are much more important than any politician or company makes them out to be. Some research into the Argosy Foundation shows that part of their mission is to “maximize the likelihood of success” of their partners – which include groups in the areas of arts, education, environment, health, and others. One has to wonder which other companies, if any, and in what area of work, the foundation has eliminated funding for.
The loss of a million dollars in funding is undoubtedly a gigantic blow to the livelihood of Milwaukee Shakespeare, but is it a mortal wound? There are funds, although few, that may still prove to keep some aspect of the theatre alive. Minimalize the company perhaps, reach out for volunteer work, or produce cheap productions in local parks. Communities should urge their local arts institutions to educate, entertain, and inspire.
Creative arts are usually the first to go in times of economic uncertainty. Professional, amateur, and school arts departments are suffering everywhere. But “the play’s the thing,” or rather, art is the thing that makes our culture thrive. Can we let culture die due to the dollar?