In a stunning and sobering announcement, Artists Repertory Theatre says it’s temporarily suspending production of its 2023-24 season of plays, pending further examination of the company’s financial situation.
“The ongoing national crisis among regional theatres has presented us with significant obstacles that require careful consideration and action,” ART board chair Pancho Savery stated in a press release. “To navigate these challenges successfully, we believe it is crucial to take this strategic pause in order to focus on key areas that will shape the future of ART and ensure its sustainability.”
In a joint statement, managing director Aiyana Cunningham and artistic director Jeanette Harrison cited ongoing financial struggles as the reason for the shutdown—and blamed state lawmakers.
“Most notably, House Bill 2459 was not passed by the Oregon Legislature and resulted in $250,000 not being awarded to us as part of the proposed recovery funding for the arts and cultural sector,” Cunningham and Harrison said. “The bill would have appropriated monies to cultural organizations in response to the negative impact of the pandemic on organizational finances.”
The bottom line, they said, is a shortfall that “leaves us with insufficient cash on hand to cover critical operating expenses, necessitating immediate reduction of expenses and redirecting staff resources to operational planning and revenue generation.”
In an additional statement, ART said it had received $684,000 through state allocated CARES and ARPA combined, and that the company “would have expected to receive funds from the passing of HB 2459 similar to what we had under the CARES and ARPA.”
The news comes after ART had begun early work on their production of playwright Dillon Christopher Chitto’s Pueblo Revolt, an original tale set in an “IndigiFuturist 1680.”
“ART deeply regrets that we have been forced to suspend the production of a new play by a Native playwright, with Native actors and a culturally diverse creative team with short notice,” Cunningham and Harrison said. “We acknowledge the impact this decision has on Dillon, the production team, and the venue partners we were excited to work with.”
The shutdown comes at a time when many Portland playgoers were feeling optimistic about ART’s future: After years of work, the end finally appeared to be in sight for the theater’s difficult renovation.
Is there any hope of saving ART’s 2023-24 season? Cunningham and Harrison are striking a note of optimism: “With our leadership, ART will methodically assess the multiple factors that converged to create this crisis, and the strategic options for achieving our immediate and long term goals for a sustainable future.”