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Connecticut theaters scramble after General Assembly redirects funds

FILE, 2024 - In the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers reallocated several millions of dollars in pandemic federal funding originally intended for over a dozen performing theaters in the state. Now those theaters, including Waterbury's Palace Theater (above) are saying they were blindsided by the funding cut, adding it couldn't have come at a worse time, just weeks before the end of the fiscal year.
Joel Callaway
/
Connecticut Public
FILE, 2024 - In the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers reallocated several millions of dollars in pandemic federal funding originally intended for over a dozen performing theaters in the state. Now those theaters, including Waterbury's Palace Theater (above) are saying they were blindsided by the funding cut, adding it couldn't have come at a worse time, just weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

In the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers reallocated several millions of dollars in pandemic federal funding originally allocated for more than a dozen performing theaters in the state, including Hartford Stage, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater, and Westport Country Playhouse.

Now those theaters say they were blindsided by the funding cut, adding it couldn't have come at a worse time, just weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

The funding, which came to the state through the federal American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA, was included in the 2023 biennium budget. The money was intended to help not-for-profit performing theaters in Connecticut, who are still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance and funding.

The theaters welcomed the extra infusion of cash last year, and were expecting more this year and next. But in May, just a week after the legislative session ended, the theaters were notified the ARPA funds had been redistributed.

“We don’t get a lot of support from the state, or federally anyway, but to lose this little bit of extra during the hardest time in our existence, and many other theater’s existence, it just seems really unfair,” said Tracy Flater, executive director of West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park.

The theater was expecting to receive over $27K this year and close to $19K next year, according to reporting in the CT Mirror. Flater said the sudden hit is forcing her organization to take drastic measures to stay afloat.

“We’re looking at reducing the length of runs of our shows next year,” said Flater. “We’re looking at smaller staff positions that will have to go away, and maybe some larger ones.”

In total, the theaters will lose $1.3 million this fiscal year, and $2.2 million next year. Flater, along with a dozen other theater leaders, have written a letter to Governor Ned Lamont requesting the promised funds be reinstated.

“The ARPA money was a critical part of our Board-approved budgets for FY2024 and FY2025,” the theater leaders wrote to Lamont. “For many of us, the loss of this ARPA funding comes at the end of our fiscal years; some of us have only four weeks remaining in our fiscal year, too late to meaningfully reduce expenses and raise this extraordinary amount. A number of us are operating in a deficit as we continue to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic; the elimination of pledged ARPA money only deepens our losses, making us more financially unstable.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s budget office said in a written statement to the Connecticut Mirror that the ARPA funds could shift back to the theaters this fall after a round of consultations.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.