By Lee Rennick
This year season ticket sales at the Center for the Arts are up 55% over last year. Since its beginnings as a theater and art gallery in 1995, it has struggled, but now things are booming. Executive Director Patience Long is excited to be part of the double-digit growth and a pile of community theatre awards.
Long contributes this major increase in attendance and financial stability at the Center to a number if factors.
“First,” said Long, “our staff is composed of high energy and competent people who are great at getting things done. Second, we have a solid board of directors who fully back the staff and they make sure we have what we need to be successful. Next, the professionalism of our volunteers. This includes actors, technicians, greeters, administrative volunteers, and others who donate thousands of hours. Lastly, city and county leaders are coming to see the importance of the arts in economic development.”
As a matter of fact, according to the American Planning Association, an international association of planners, the activities of the arts and culture sector have a direct effect on local economic vitality. They improve a community’s competitive edge by attracting new residents and tourists, contributing to the development of a skilled workforce, creating a sense of place, and integrating the visions of community and business leaders.
“To keep people coming back,” added Long, “you have to have a consistent quality product that people want to see. Which means your directors, actors, costumers, lighting designers, set builders, and all of the other volunteers that it takes to make a play work have to be dedicated. And they have to be supported.”
For example, the cast of the play 9 to 5, which was a recent sell out, donated almost 5,000 hours of their time.
“You have to find good directors,” said Long, “and then you have to trust their artistic vision. And you have to provide them with the resources and tools needed to make their vision become a reality.”
People are excited to see what is happening at CFTA, not only the plays, but also the camps, classes and the art gallery. All have likewise seen record numbers of attendance this year.
Center for the Arts offers both summer and after school learning experiences for young actors and want-to-be actors, reaching more than 400 kids this year. During the school year they offer classes Monday through Friday for five to 18 year-olds in acting, singing, dancing, and tech. Tech covers all of the jobs it take to make a show run behind the scenes, like costume design, lighting, make-up, stage management, set design, set construction, and more. They also offer two sets of classes that lead up to a junior musical production, and three two-week summer camps that culminate in a performance.
Denise Parton is CFTA’s Youth Education Coordinator and she has grown the youth classes by 300% by making sure that parents know that their children are in a safe environment and in capable hands.
More growth has also been seen in the gallery. Over the last year the gallery has sold more art than it did over the last three years, an accomplishment that Long attributes to the Boro Art Crawl.
“We noticed the spike in art sales after we started to participate in the Boro Art Crawl,” said Long. “We have also had more artists apply to be in the gallery, and more visitors to the gallery. I can’t say enough about what the Crawl has done for the arts in Murfreesboro, especially downtown.”
The Gallery doubles as a theatre for a Cabaret Series that the Center offers free of charge. It is fun and the audience can bring a picnic basket and refreshments allowing them to dine while enjoying the entertainment.
All of this growth has been accomplished through their fundraiser, Backstage Bash, which takes place in March or April every year, as well as sponsorship from businesses and foundations, including the Tennessee Arts Commission. They have increased revenues with their classes and art sales, and increased revenue from ticket sales.
The theatre seats about 130 people. Last year saw an average of 85 per performance, up significantly from previous years. And this year is averaging over 100 people per show. More and more every show is a sell out.
With all of this growth, Long has some visions for the future. First, she’d love to be able to offer her directors some type of stipend. Directing is like having a second high-pressure job. All of her directors have full time jobs, and then put in an additional 250 hours over three months during rehearsals and production. Second, she’d like to have access to a larger venue for some shows.
She is already working on making CFTA more integrated into the community by offering technical internships to theatre students at Middle Tennessee State University. And by working with local restaurants to offer specials to those coming to a show.
More than anything she wants to continue to produce high quality shows with local talent. Over the last several years CFTA has received more nominations for Broadway World Awards, given to local regional theaters, than ever before.
“Arts are so important,” said Long. “Only good things will come to the community through supporting the arts – including new people and increased quality of life.”