As City of Wilmington officials prepare the budget for the next fiscal year, nonprofits and arts organizations are working hard to make their case for the well-documented link between economic development and the arts.
But as WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn learned in a recent conversation with Tony Rivenbark, Executive Director of the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, his organization is not looking for a handout.
In order to understand the fiscal relationship between Thalian Hall and the City of Wilmington, we first have to make sure that we’re talking about the same entity. So what is Thalian Hall?
Tony Rivenbark: “Thalian Hall, per se, is a building and forms the eastern portion of the City Hall / Thalian Hall building.
“It is managed by the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Incorporated, which is a not-for-profit corporation which administers the public portion of the building for the City of Wilmington.”
Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, or THCPA, has managed Thalian Hall for the City since 1973. As part of its management, THCPA rents out the various venues within Thalian Hall – the ballroom, the studio theatre, the mainstage -- to various civic groups, theatrical troupes, and arts organizations.
A recent news report called Thalian Hall “the highest-level recipient in local culture” of City money. But that language makes Tony Rivenbark bristle.
RLH: "If Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts didn’t exist, and the city had to manage the building as part of its operations, would it cost the city more or less? Do you know?
TR: “Oh, considerably more. Probably three or four times more – you know -- if it’s going to serve the same purpose. But if you’re just going to lock up the doors and not use it, then you might be able to – it might not cost more than what the city’s paying now to not use it.”
So the City pays THCPA a management fee of $125,000 per year to operate the building for them. But the fee doesn’t come close to covering all the costs of operating the Hall.
TR: “To do everything that goes on in Thalian Hall, for it to serve the community, is much more expensive than $100k a year.
RLH: “And so you’re constantly recruiting donors who give to this nonprofit.
TR: “That is correct. That is why the Friends of Thalian Hall program, the producers’ circle, the sponsors… because it’s like most things in this country: ticket sales do not pay for the cost. This is one of the strange ways that the modern world and the arts or performances operate. Essentially we’re providing a retail product at a wholesale price to the community.”
THCPA’s earned income is through ticket sales, the Main Attractions Series, concessions, the Cinematique film series. That revenue offsets some operating expenses so that THCPA can not just keep up the property, but work to improve it and make recommendations for the future.
TR: “We just provided, at no cost to the citizens of Wilmington, the new outdoor lighting system all the way around the building. That was something that -- we were able to raise those funds.”
Thalian Hall also recently upgraded to digital film projection – also at no cost to the City.
TR: “People constantly are commenting on that that come from other places -- how impressed they are that we have this wonderful building. It is something everybody shows off to everybody that comes to town. And when we are trying to attract new businesses and new people, this is one of the things that people show. This is the kind of community we live in. This is the kind of cooperation we have.”
City Council officials will present a budget draft at the May 7th meeting, according to City Spokesperson Malissa Talbert. But the decision about THCPA will made at the Tuesday, April 16th Council meeting. A resolution for a 5-year contract renewal is on the agenda.
Editor's Note: Cinematique is a partnership between Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts and WHQR.