The people trying to establish an entity that would serve area arts groups during a historic economic crisis are taking steps to demonstrate that everyone is included.

George Stevens, president of the Coastal Community Foundation, an organization that handles millions of dollars for local and regional charities, is scheduled to speak at the board meeting of the League of Charleston Theatres on Dec. 8.

Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, which manages Piccolo Spoleto and other cultural venues and events, is also scheduled to speak.

The move is a positive sign to arts groups worried they were excluded from efforts to promote holiday shows offered by the Big Three: the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Ballet Theatre, and Charleston Stage.

Each is facing tens of thousands of dollars in shortfalls from donations. The CSO is facing an anticipated million-dollar deficit. Charleston Stage needs $200,000 by season’s end. So promoting holiday performances is thought to offset declines.

But small theater groups have also struggled. The Post and Courier has reported that theater groups have seen ticket sales slump by as much as 30 percent.

That’s why Stevens’ and Moryl’s visit is being seen as a step toward inclusivity.

“I’m very pleased,” says Emily Wilhoit, head of the League of Charleston Theatres. “I’m pleased to be part of it all and that we’re finally starting this conversation.”

Promoting the holiday shows is the first step in establishing some kind of entity that could in theory handle the business side of the arts — such as marketing, development, and promotion — while leaving the art to the artists.

An entity of this nature would reduce the cost of running an administration while expanding “earned income” through ticket sales. This entity has been called during these early stages an “arts council,” an “arts alliance” and an “arts coalition.”

“The same dollar that goes to fund-raising would work for more than one organization,” Stevens told me in an interview. “There’s no sense in separate offices doing the same work when it’s possible for one office, like an arts council, to do one job for the benefit of many.”

Stevens and Moryl are joined by John O. Sands, the Lowcountry representative of the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, a regional charity that provides some measure of support to nearly every arts group in Charleston.

Sands is currently attempting to secure a $250,000 grant from his foundation. Part of that money would help pay for promotion of arts groups’ holiday programming. Charleston City Council voted last week to pitch in $50,000 in matching funds.

The P&C reported that approval of the grant was delayed until after Thanksgiving. The newpaper also said only three arts groups are currently eligible.

That’s wrong, according to Stevens. The Donnelley Foundation has designated that the money “stabilized arts organizations” without naming who would be stabilized.

“Other arts group may join,” Stevens says. “We are making that effort with discussions with the League of Charleston Theatres.” —John Stoehr


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