Celebrating 25 years of the CAC – a community achievement

It was May 1993 when Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops took the stage for the very first performance at the newly renovated Community Arts Center. Since that time, the curtain has risen on a number of attractions a list of which would fill many column inches in this newspaper.

To be truly a community asset, the programming at the Arts Center must appeal to a diverse range of community interests. To provide something for everyone is a daunting task, but over the first quarter century the Arts Center has achieved this goal and established itself as a regional mecca for the performing arts.

Live musical performances of all genres, Broadway musicals and plays, ballet and other dance recitals, children and family entertainment, comedy, magic, and opera have all been a part of the Arts Center’s seasonal offerings.

When the lights go down and the curtain rises, the community benefits from the cultural and entertainment value that performances at the Arts Center provide.

However, there is a halo effect that goes beyond the enjoyment of live theater. The Arts Center has an economic impact on this community that is substantial. In attracting patrons to downtown Williamsport, the Community Arts Center benefits area hotels, restaurants and businesses.

Some economists quantify that impact at the rate of eight dollars spent for every one dollar of ticket price. That makes the Community Arts Center an economic asset to the community of substantial proportion.

Over the course of twenty five years, performing arts centers have experienced a seismic shift in the business model under which they operate. In short, the cost of talent has far outstripped the ticket price that patrons are willing to pay. It is not unusual for artist fees for marquee performers to top $100,000.

Add to this transportation, hospitality and production costs and the business model soon becomes unsustainable. The construction of a performing arts season often resembles a bargain hunting shopping trip. While some guidelines exist for show selection, the final choice is often far more common sense than science.

It is a common misconception that purchasing a ticket provides support for the Arts Center. In most cases, those ticket dollars support the artists, not the arts centers. To sustain their existence, performing arts centers like our Community Arts Center must rely on philanthropy.

Show sponsorships by local businesses help to keep ticket prices at a reasonable level. Performance co-sponsorship with promoters helps to offset risk. Grants from foundations and, to a lesser extent, government agencies, fund capital improvements and equipment updates.

The campaign that provided the funding to acquire and renovate the Capitol Theater and create the Community Arts Center was spearheaded by Pennsylvania College of Technology, the Williamsport/Lycoming Foundation (now First Community Foundation Partnership) and the City of Williamsport.

These lead partners helped to make the Capitol Campaign one of the most successful fund raising enterprises in regional history. As is the case for all such organizations, philanthropy was the key to establishing and is the key to maintaining the Community Arts Center and this community has acquitted itself remarkably well in this respect.

When you next visit the Arts Center, take a moment to reflect what we as a community have achieved. Look to the Capitol Campaign and Spotlight Campaign donor recognition displays in the outer lobby. Page through the program to see the businesses that support the Arts Center through advertising and the list of annual campaign contributors who support theater operations.

As part of celebrating our 25th season, the Community Arts Center will once again approach the community for financial support.

It will again be an opportunity for the generosity of our community to be demonstrated and to ensure that the cultural and economic benefits of the Arts Center will continue to accrue to this area.

Dr. William J. Martin is chairman of the board of the Community Arts Center.