How Did LA's 24th Street Theatre Recover (And Then Some) From Great Recession Funding Cuts?

If anything good can be taken from cuts to arts funding, it's the sad fact that it provides arts organizations with a tangible goal in their efforts to restore that funding.

It's a matter of incentives. After all, organizations need to have goals. "We need to raise $200,000 by 2016," a CFO will proclaim. And having that goal in mind focuses the mind and sharpens the organization's fundraising efforts.

We're seeing this in places like Los Angeles, where funding for critical programs was cut during the Great Recession and, since then, arts organizations have looked at that pre-recession number and said, "That number right there. That's what we have to aim for, and exceed it."

Take the case of LA's 24th Street Theatre. It provides a bizarre example of an incredibly successful and well-received program that nonetheless was subjected to the funding axe.

The Theatre's flagship offering is called Enter Stage Right, a "fun-filled, sophisticated, action-packed arts education program that features movie star and longtime 24th Street Theatre supporter Jack Black in an interactive video and uses theater to teach math, history and language arts."

Enter Stage Right began in 2003 with the modest goal of serving only five schools in the Los Angeles School District. But soon enough, Enter Stage Right mania spread like wildfire. The school district expanded its contract, adding another 20 schools in 2003 alone, and 15 more by 2004. Six years after it started, Enter Stage Right became the most requested program in the district, serving 11,000 students annually, at 110 schools.

So what happened next? Its funding was cut, naturally.

The cuts came in 2010 — strangely enough, two years after the start of the Great Recession. And, not surprisingly, the number of students who were served plunged to 2,500 per year. Very depressing stuff.

But all was not lost. 24th Street Theatre identified $250,000 as a figure that would, over time, get them back to pre-recession funding levels, and began to raise the funds. Enter the Rosenthal Family Foundation, whose representative, Monica Rosenthal, after seeing a performance, said, "The show is brilliant — it is my dream that every student have access to this profound program."

And so the foundation cut a check that exceeded the $250,000 figure — $300,000 in fact, over three years, to help the theatre expand Enter Stage Right to pre-recession levels and, better yet, develop a touring version.

The good news kept coming. As noted by 24th Street Executive Director Jay McAdams, "Because it's a matching grant, we are able to generate additional revenue from schools, which means that instead of just doubling the number of kids we can serve, we are able to quadruple it."

We here at IP recently published a post asking ruefully, "What Happens When Arts Funding Gets Cut and Doesn't Come Back." News out of Los Angeles proves that, thankfully, it can come back — and better than before.