It's hardly unusual for arts organizations to send out fundraising e-mails, but the notice that Alberta Theatre Projects issued this week was alarming. Noting that the Calgary theatre company's corporate sponsorship is down 77 per cent, ATP said its future was under threat and announced an "urgent" fundraising campaign.
"Our 2017-18 season will be going ahead as planned, but looking beyond next season has become extremely difficult given our financial situation," the release quoted Vicki Stroich, ATP's executive director.
ATP says it needs to reach $400,000 in order to operate beyond 2018. The Calgary Foundation, an award-granting community organization, has come through with a one-time proactive grant of $200,000, so ATP is looking to raise another $200,000 by May 1.
Reached Thursday, Stroich explained that in the past three years alone, corporate sponsorship has fallen 70 per cent (and 77 per cent over five years).
"A lot of our sponsors are doing their best in a difficult situation, and we've got a lot of great corporate supporters who, even through difficult corporate times, have stuck with us," she says. "But the cumulative effect of the economic downturn in terms of corporate support has put us in a vulnerable position."
Stroich cited the case of one corporate sponsor that went out of business. The company could obviously no longer donate to ATP, but it gave the theatre company some new office furniture as it wrapped up operations.
"People care," she says. "It's just that their capacity has shifted and that has created an effect."
With the dramatic drop in corporate sponsorship, ATP has already been cutting costs in various ways. In 2013, it announced it was folding its long-running Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. The season has shrunk; there are six plays in this year's season and six planned for next, down from 10 just a few years ago. Through attrition, a handful of full-time jobs have been eliminated. And there is a change coming in its leadership: With the departure of long-time artistic director Vanessa Porteous at the end of this season, ATP is adopting a new interim artistic-leadership structure. Rather than appoint a new AD, ATP will be led by Stroich with the assistance of Laurel Green, director of artistic programming.
But it hasn't been enough.
"We've cut where we can, and what we're concerned about is making any further cuts is going to deeply impair our ability to move ahead as a company that is in a position of strength," says Stroich.
The fundraising campaign, called "Propel Us Forward", is asking people to text $20 donations. It's launched as the company stages its latest new work, Joan MacLeod's Gracie, directed by Porteous; a co-production with the Belfry Theatre, it had its world premiere recently in Victoria.
Founded in 1972, ATP has produced more than 288 Canadian plays and premiered more than 156 works by Canadian playwrights, according to the news release.
"We know that people care about us and we know, and not just here in Calgary, but we know that we've had an impact across Canada and so we wanted to invite people to invest in our future," says Stroich. "And it's not easy to ask for help, but sometimes it's necessary."
Less than 24 hours after the call for help went out, ATP had raised more than $3,000 in mobile giving alone, and some larger donations were made online and through partner matching programs. "People texting a $20 donation is a beautiful thing," Stroich said. "But people coming forward and talking about the value of the company is profoundly important."