Imperial troubles underline community role in art

By: Melissa Tune Email
By: Melissa Tune Email

May 17, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---The Imperial Theatre's financial woes are a big concern for many in the fine arts community.

Monetary issues and shortfalls with funding are not new to Augusta arts, but what can be done about it to make a difference?

Art enthusiasts say instead of waiting for the check to arrive, they're hoping the community can help make a difference.

"Don't panic about what's happening to one organization, but realize that we all need to be paying attention to the arts, all the time," said Brenda Durant, executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council.

The troubles that currently plague the Imperial Theatre are valid concerns, Durant says, but the Augusta art community as a whole should not be fearful of its future.

"We all need to be concerned," she said. "The arts are a very important part of the quality of life in Augusta."

After learning that debts, bills and owed allocations for one of Augusta's greatest landmarks have gone unpaid, questions as to what caused the shortfall and how other organizations can prevent the same thing happening to them have arisen.

Designated money called SPLOST, or the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is what the Imperial is now waiting on to pay some of those debts, but Durant says that isn't the problem, because those funds are used for a different purpose.

"There's not a lot of organizations that receive SPLOST. That is not how the arts are funded, because you can't use it for operating. It's not for your copier. It's for things like the marquee and improving the bathrooms or building a building," Durant said. "Most people don't realize that.

"The largest chunk of money that comes to nonprofits is from individual giving. That is, you writing a check out of your checkbook and supporting an organization."

And that's what Durant says will keep the arts alive in Augusta. Patrons keep the doors to the museums and arts buildings open. And despite the controversy surrounding the Imperial and the accusations of misused funds, art lovers should remain confident that their money is well spent:

"There has been no money misspent at the Imperial Theater that I'm aware of," Durant said. "Do feel assured that if you write a check, your money will be spent wisely."

"If you are worried about the Imperial Theatre, do something about it...which would be come to a show," Durant continued.

Imperial board president Paul Brewer told us yesterday that the SPLOST money should come within the next month to help ease the strain.

Durant says it's been tough for them in the past, but they will make it through. She says the arts community is used to making a dollar stretch.

News 12 has learned the half million dollars in SPLOST money the Imperial is counting on isn't the only penny sales tax money tied up right now. The following other organizations are also awaiting a check from SPLOST:

SPLOST Money On The Way
Augusta Museum $400,000
Augusta Mini-Theater $500,000
Imperial Theater $500,000
Lucy Laney Museum $200,000
MACH Academy $100,000

This follows a May 1 Commission decision to make outside groups enter into an agreement with the city before handing the money over.

In the agreement are guidelines to help keep track of disbursements to those outside agencies.


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