Tuesday’s editorial urges the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board to get its act together if it ever wants to actually build an arts center:
The members of the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board might be forgiven for sounding a bit pessimistic at their latest meeting. After all, 12 years after the group began its work to build a modern theater space for local arts, they’re about as close to completion as the state is to building Interstate 73.
A meeting of the board on Friday was marked by repeated calls for reorganization and evident frustration with the city of Myrtle Beach, particularly at its proposal of a new amphitheater that members see as a threat to their own dearly held dream of a home for the arts.
“It seems to me a humongous change may have occurred in our relationship with the city,” said board member Wayne Mumford, who was appointed co-chairman of the group later in the meeting. “… They’ve gone and spent the money that we thought would be available to us.”
“We don’t have anything to tell these people [donors] because the city isn’t behind us,” said Rita Siegal Levine, the outgoing chairwoman.
“Without their support, there’s no point in raising the money,” said board member Bruce Carrell.
“Several of them [City Council members] are talking out of both sides of their mouths,” said Diane DeVaughn Stokes.
But all that dissatisfaction, while understandable, is pointed in the wrong direction. If the group’s cherished performing arts center is to become a reality, it’s long past time for the group to get its own act together.
The city, for its part, has steadily promised for years now to pay for roughly three-quarters of the theater space the nonprofit board envisions. All it has asked is that the group raise the rest, about $2.5 million. But the group has proved persistently unable to manage that feat or even to show much progress. In fact, in recent years the goal has actually slipped even further away.
Just a few years ago, the group had about $650,000 on hand. But architectural plans took about half of that. And then the board paid more than $150,000 to professional fundraising organizations and a D.C. lobbyist. It also hired an executive director at $72,000 a year (though it was never clear exactly what he was directing, as there was no center). The result of all that spending? According to their filed tax returns, the group has received about $28,000 in donations since 2007, not including a $50,000 grant from an annoyed Myrtle Beach City Council that kept them afloat in 2011. Their latest return, which covers the period through June 2011, shows less than $40,000 on hand.
It’s no wonder that City Council members have had their own frustrations.
“It seems to me that the past history of this group is getting the cart before the horse,” Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said in January 2011, as the group asked for a grant to keep the organization going. “I don’t see progress being made. I really don’t.”
The goal of the arts center board – formerly the Rivoli Theater Group – has always been a good one. Myrtle Beach would benefit from a modern theater where groups such as the Carolina Master Chorale or visiting troupes could perform. Having a dedicated base for the arts year-round would be a boost for tourism as well as a valuable amenity for those of us who live here.
But good ideas don’t pay for themselves. The dedication of those working for an arts center has never been in question, but if they wish for it to ever become any more than a dream and a drawing, it’s time to get down to business.
The mayor affirmed on Friday the city’s willingness to work with the group.
“We made a commitment to them once they raised their money,” he said. “But so far, we’re just waiting for their check. I can’t see council backing out on that.”
He pointed out, however, that he’s been in office seven years and so far has seen little progress from the group. “We meet and we meet, but we haven’t seen the performance.”
With luck, the appointment of new leadership on Friday will be a positive step, reinvigorating the stagnant group with new purpose and clear direction. If we’re not so lucky, it will just be another empty action, treading water without moving forward.
In the end, if city residents really want a performing arts center, the best bet might be to take the fundraising advice of Penny Boling, the group’s new co-chairman:
“The only thing we can do is buy lottery tickets.”