November 19, 2017; Houston Chronicle
The 15 feet of floodwater that filled the [Wortham] theater’s basement for several weeks destroyed costumes for 50 one-act ballets. That is a huge chunk of the company’s repertory, including seminal works by George Balanchine, Christopher Bruce, Mark Morris, and other leading choreographers.
In yet another example of the vulnerability and resilience of the arts, the largest performing arts institutions in Houston struggle with tens of millions of dollars in losses as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Performing arts spaces meant to be used for a busy, well planned, and expensive holiday season have been destroyed, as are sets and costumes. On top of that, even the shows that can be ably patched together in replacement venues have no assurance that Houstonians will buy tickets.
The Alley Theater by itself is looking at $18 million in necessary repairs, much of which it is hoping will be covered by FEMA. That is equal to an entire year’s budget, and the revenues that make up such budgets are themselves at risk. The Houston Symphony cancelled 17 performances and closed for seven weeks. It figures it will lose $3 million in ticket sales even with an extra concert tacked on to the end of the season. A move in venue has lowered the ballet’s estimates for Nutcracker ticket receipts by $1.25 million. Beyond that, much of the rest of the season will have to be rescheduled—with a new slate of ballets on new dates.
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This loss of momentum, says Perryn Leech, Houston Grand Opera’s managing director, may cause even greater losses down the line. “Even if 10 percent of people don’t come back to the theater, when they get out of the habit of going out, that’s a challenge.”
And then there are the costs of adjustments like relocating. The Ballet, for instance, had to buy a traveling dance floor for its temporary relocation, though they were lucky enough to have a donor cover that cost. The Houston Grand Opera has spent a cool $500,000 to construct a temporary performance location in a convention center which had to relocate other tenants to make space.
Still, as we saw during the great recession, even though the arts suffer greatly in crisis, the hardest hit of large arts venues can bounce back if their audiences value them. That’s the factor that Houston’s arts organizations will be watching very carefully over the next few months.—Ruth McCambridge