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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Arts An Economic Engine

Burien Little Theatre’s current production, a 1950s musical comedy adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream [1]” will end its run this weekend. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

So who cares? Why support the arts in Burien anyway? Isn’t just a way for a few people to feel good about themselves? Why help? Why now?

Well as it turns out, arts are good for business! Arts are good for Burien! Attached is a copy of an article in the most recent edition (March 2010) of The Business Report [2], a newspaper serving business interests in South King County.

The article, “Arts Represents a Boon to the Local Economy,” describes some of the economic benefits arts organizations provide to South King County. Three arts organizations mentioned by name in the article are the Federal Way Symphony, Burien Little Theatre and the Seattle Opera Scenic Studios. The latter is located in Renton.


Click image to see larger version.

As the article notes, a 2005 study by Americans for the Arts showed that nonprofit arts and culture organizations generate $166.2 billion in economic activity in a year. The ArtsFund 2003 King County Economic Impact Study reported that county-wide arts and culture were responsible for $208 million in sales, $113.4 million in labor income and $8 million in tax revenues.

As also noted in the attached article, not only does Burien Little Theatre buy locally whenever possible, 77.6 percent of BLT’s patrons go out and eat or drink before or after seeing one of Burien Little Theatre’s performances. It is about an even split between those that eat or drink before the show compared to those who eat and drink after the performance. This is business for local restaurants and bars that would not occur without the performances at Burien Little Theatre. Additionally, for many years Burien Little Theatre has partnered with the Mark Restaurant and Bar in Burien for a dinner and a show package, where patrons can combine both dinner and a performance for a reduced rate. This has been very successful.

Not mentioned in the article is Burien Little Theatre’s recently joining with the local child care service The Jungle Gym to provide child care during one of the evening performances during a run, so parents can enjoy a night out and have their children entertained, too. Once again arts helping local business, while also helping harried parents catch a little time for themselves.

Unlike sports patrons who go to a game and eat at the event, patrons at Burien Little Theatre eat at local restaurants before or after the performance. Additionally, on any given evening after a production anywhere from 10 to 40 cast members, friends and well wishers descend upon a local bar, often the Mark, to talk about the show and the next project they have going. Speaking from personal experience, money is spent, food is eaten and liquids consumed at these spontaneous arts-related events.

Not only do Burien Little Theatre’s patrons help the local economy by eating and drinking before and after the performances, Burien Little Theatre itself spends money in the local economy. Live theater takes many things: first of all theater takes a lot of space that Burien Little Theatre rents from the City and a local School District. Theatre also needs countless items to present a live production: from paint to props, from shoes to sandpaper, and everything in between. Theater must create an entire world to tell its story. To do that, Burien Little Theatre spends tens of thousands of dollars every season. Whenever possible Burien Little Theatre spends that money locally. Whether it is Ace Hardware, Fred Meyer, McLendon in White Center or Value Village and Salvation Army, Burien Little Theatre looks first to the local community to buy everything it needs to mount a production and run a nonprofit business.

Burien Little Theatre is suffering from loss of space in the near term and the long term. Approaching is the loss of the green house, which is the office and costume storage space Burien Little Theatre has rented from Burien Parks and Recreation for years. Burien Little Theatre is also facing a much bigger jump in its rent than just to cover inflation. In the long term there have been, and continues to be, discussions of Burien Little Theatre losing its performance space so the City of Burien can replace its new Community Center (the old library space) with another new Community Center located where Burien Little Theatre has performed for the last 30 years.

In a City like Burien, with strong leadership, the arts, including Burien Little Theatre, can flourish and help lead the way out of tough economic times for all of the people in Burien. The attached article and the studies mentioned within it answer the question, “Why help the arts?” The arts are a proven economic engine, one that is much needed right now.

So what can you do to help? First, go see a performance. Decide for yourself whether the local arts are worth supporting. Burien Little Theatre is not your parents’ community theatre. It is part of the suburban fringe movement, bringing to Burien bold, fun, high-quality productions of works you cannot get on a DVD or anywhere else. Check it out, enjoy yourself and support the arts at the same time.

Throughout time immemorial the arts have had patrons. Those patrons were in a financial position to help the arts thrive and grow in a way that was bigger than just ticket sales. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “There are more things in the cost of production, Horatio, than are covered by your ticket price.”

If you are blessed enough to be in a financial position where you can give some support to the local arts community, please be generous. Help the local arts grow. Because, as the local arts community grows, the local economy will grow even in these tough economic times.

Eric Dickman, Artistic Director
Maggie Larrick, Managing Director

Burien Little Theatre [1]

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