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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Eccles Theatre, spared this year by private donation, deserves city funding

By Jenn Pulham

December 15, 2006 | The Ellen Eccles Theater on Main Street in Logan will most likely see a cut in budget this coming year from the city, says Wally Bloss, executive director at the Cache Valley Center for the Arts. "I'm not sure we've been able to show the mayor the value of the arts," he said.

The theater, under threat of closing in 1988, was bought by the city, and therefore subject to the budget the city sees fit. Bloss says Mayor Randy Watts, who has been in office since January, had told him his intentions of cutting the budget for the arts from when he first took office. But if the city owns the theater, shouldn't its citizens have a say in what is done with it? That sort of makes sense.

Mayor Watts grew up in Cache Valley and has a lot of respect for the arts. "My family contributed to the arts many times," he said. Unfortunately, the cuts had to come from somewhere. Watts has been to every department head and asked them to make significant cuts and personnel changes in order to assist the budget. He had to ask the arts department for something, even if, oh, they're not actually a department of the city.

The arts center was next on his list, or first on his list, depending on how you look at it. "If I'd had been at it longer, I'd have made the cuts even sooner," he said. Watts reasoned that the citizens would rather have the money going to fixing the roads. In fact, Watts said the roads went two years without being chipped and sealed, whereas the theater received the same budget both years.

The theater was built in 1923 and rumors were that it would be demolished until the public spoke out. With more changes looming, will the public speak out again? Bloss says an article published in The Herald Journal Sept. 21 was most likely the first time the public heard of the budget cut. You would think that with word out that plans for the theater are changing, people would be more willing to put some effort into saving this Cache Valley treasure.

The cut is not final yet, and must be discussed by city council members. The cut would take effect next fiscal year. The city provided $246,000 last year for operation of the theater. This money went to the upkeep of the building, such as paying electric bills and fixing roofs.

Bloss says the Center for the Arts spends around $200,000 bringing in the artists every year. With the cut from the city, they will most likely be required to use some of that money to make up the difference. "Our goal is to find a way not to do it," Bloss said.

That's good, Wally, and good luck. Chances are, unless Cache Valley citizens cough up some money, there's nowhere else for it to come from. But judging by the frugality of a lot of people in Cache Valley, it is unlikely that they will put their money into a theater, even if it is a landmark. They would rather see the money go to a new movie theater then something that would bring culture to their lives, perish the thought.

If the cut goes through city council, Watts believes that the cut will reduce the arts budget to far below $200,000, a cut of more than $50,000.

Lucky for them someone did step up to the plate. Dell Loy Hansen of North Logan, who has donated money to various organizations in the city in the past, came to Bloss to discuss options. In the end, Hansen and several of his partners agreed to set up what will basically be a trust fund for the Ellen Eccles Theater. The amount totals more than $1 million and saves the theater from having to cut any of its programs this coming year.

Bloss is hoping that with the end of the year approaching there will be more contributions. He says the public is likely to give more money to the arts. "They look at it as giving money to the local community as opposed to the IRS," he said.

The cut from the city is still in the future, and Bloss is unsure of how much it will be. "They may cut half, all, we don't know."


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