The Journey

Building an Ark for the Arts
By Justin Scott

The elegant Fox Theater might as well be a ghost town at 3 p.m. most Mondays. The ornate lap fixtures hang for the ceiling unlit. The intricately restored art deco interior has a surreal glow cast by the cool light of a cold winter's day. There is no long line at the small bar inside or waiting for the restrooms, and with no one standing on it, the beautiful carpet is easily seen for its entire splendor. While this theater is a true feast for the eyes when unoccupied by hundreds of symphony enthusiasts, this could in fact be the permanent state of this majestic concert hall. With the nation reeling from a major economic downturn, the first expenses to go could be non-necessities such as the arts.

But Spokane Symphony Marketing Director Annie Matlow thinks the arts even in Spokane will survive.

"We believe that the arts are something most people won't do without," Matlow said. "We are finding new ways for people to hear us."

Matlow may be correct, as individual ticket sales continue to be strong; however a noticeable drop in symphony subscribers has occurred. These lost people are essentially the insurance policy for guaranteed income, and without them, the symphony sits on precarious ground.

"People just don't want to make that kind of financial commitment in these uncertain times, not even for the spring season of concerts." Matlow said.

The challenging economic climate is one of the primary concerns of President Barack Obama. As one of the few candidates who had an arts platform in last year's election, President Obama has repeatedly emphasized the importance of maintaining the arts as well as reviving the American economy. The main act of legislation President Obama looks to implement is the American Recovery and Reinvestment bill. Within this bill, which has already passed through Congress, President Obama included $50 million to go to the National Endowment for the Arts. This vast sum of money will to go directly from the NEA to nonprofit arts organizations, including our own Spokane Symphony.

Despite the support from President Obama, the NEA is still concerned about the security and well being of these nonprofit organizations in the current economy. The Spokane Symphony has already begun taking measures to insure they can continue to operate.

"Like all businesses, we are being proactive. We are identifying our strengths, controlling our expenses, and tightening our belts where ever we can." Matlow said.

Bringing in popular acts and having a wide variety of shows is a definite strength of the Symphony. In the next few months, the symphony will host everything from Broadway Divas to Brandi Carlile.

The new presidential administration has produced a new confidence that was visible to Sue Bradley, the owner of the Tinman Art Gallery and the Ruby Slipper shoe store in the Garland District.

"There's a definite sense of optimism with the Obama administration in the White House," Bradley said. "This administration has a lot of potential and is equipped with people who work for the common good, not just for the lobbyists and special interest groups."

However, Bradley is quick to note that business has been slow in both the Tinman and the Ruby Slipper. Despite the fact that shoes remain one of the most secure aspects of the fashion market, Bradley and her independent store, the Ruby Slipper, feel the pressure of major department store sales. With national brands like Nordstrom's and Macys consistently liquidating their massive inventories at up to 75 percent off, customers are willing to wait for a bargain. Due to this new trend in the market, Bradley is moving up her shoe sale by a week.

"Nobody on Garland has the economic pull to bring vendor prices that low." Bradley said. "Even the vendors are hurting. I had a vendor submit an order in my name a few weeks back. They're that desperate."

The Tinman Gallery is also feeling the effects of the economic downturn, having sold only two paintings from their last exhibit. This past Christmas was hampered by the three week long winter storm which blanketed the city of Spokane. The art portion of the gallery is down by 50 percent. The book portion of the store however has continued to be profitable.

"There have not been major book liquidations, and people know that if they spend $15 on a book at the Tinman, it will be worth it." Bradley said.

Ultimately, the population of Spokane will determine what is affected by the recession. The Tinman Gallery and the Ruby Slipper have both garnered large local following, and this following continues to support these locally owned stores.

"People have to vote with their wallets," Bradley said. "People who shop with us want to keep us around."

The same principle applies to the Spokane Symphony. With thousands of loyal patrons and the diversity that rivals any major metropolitan symphony, the Spokane Symphony appears well equipped to survive this economic downturn Annie Matlow said. So while the Fox Theater may look like a deserted art deco museum on a Monday afternoon, come Saturday night the halls will be full of beautiful music and hundreds of patrons.