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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

Paying for the aria

AMID Toledo's persistent economic miseries, one of our community's enduring assets is the presence of world-class cultural institutions that larger cities and regions can't match. Such amenities can - and often do - make a big difference in attracting and keeping businesses and residents who know there's more to life than making a buck.

So the news that the Toledo Opera Association nearly had to cancel its final production this season because of a financial shortfall should concern you, even if you can't distinguish a coloratura from a basso profundo. And it should cause all people and institutions that claim to support the opera to re-examine the strength of their commitment, bottom-line as well as rhetorical.

The Blade reported this week that the nonprofit opera association confronted a $150,000 deficit this year in its budget of slightly more than $1 million. That's hardly a unique dilemma among arts organizations, locally or nationally, that have been battered by the recession like nearly everyone else.

Not only have the opera's ticket sales dropped, but corporate support of the opera association plummeted from accounting for 20 percent of its operating budget before the recession hit hard in late 2008 to just 5 percent now. State aid has fallen by half.

If the opera association could not close its funding gap before the scheduled May 1 opening of its season finale - Donizetti's The Love Potion - the curtain would not have gone up. The association would have lost the tens of thousands of dollars it already had invested in the production.

Fortunately, civic-minded institutions and individuals came to the rescue. We note, with what we hope is pardonable pride, that The Blade's parent company led off with a $30,000 contribution. KeyBank, Health Care REIT, and The Andersons Inc. also stepped up, as did opera association patrons and members.

It wasn't a bailout, but rather an investment. The donors required the opera association's endowment to match their grants. The association plans to rebuild its endowment when the economy turns up.

By contrast, other local businesses, including at least one represented on the opera association's board, provided in-kind contributions. But they did not donate badly needed cash, even in cases where the companies raise and extract substantial revenues from this community. In-kind contributions didn't - and won't - save the opera. Cash did, and will.

The show went on, but it was a close call. And while the opera expects to maintain its budget next season, it is reducing the number of performances of each opera on its schedule.

The arts are worth supporting, as engines of economic development as well as cultural and educational uplift. The corporate sponsors of the Toledo Opera Association, as well as the community's other arts institutions, need to resolve that even in bad times, their support of the arts must amount to more than good wishes.



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