March 28 2010; Mercury News | Performing arts groups in the San Francisco Bay area are discovering one of the new realities of today’s economic environment. While they might enjoy strong box office receipts, drops in donations are making this a very tough year, forcing some to cancel performances and layoff actors and dancers. Even groups based in or near tech-laden Silicon Valley—home to Apple, Google, Yahoo and other leading firms—find that their proximity to these powerhouses don’t help.

According to 1stACT Silicon Valley, an arts advocacy group, the 25 biggest corporate givers in the area spent just 13 percent of their charitable donations locally, which it says is below the national average. Meg Garlinghouse, senior director of Yahoo for Good told the Mercury News: “Our primary asset is our audience and our Web site. If we can provide information there, that’s more valuable than a cash donation. After Hurricane Katrina struck, Yahoo put a spotlight on New Orleans groups on its portal and raised $45 million within 48 hours.”

Falling short of winning needed corporate support, arts groups are targeting individual donors and area foundations and sometimes with success. The paper reports, for example, that Ballet San Jose “found an angel in John C. Fry, owner of Fry’s Electronics. Fry, a die-hard dance lover who rescued the ballet with a $1 million gift in 2004, now sits on the ballet’s board.”

Other arts supporters include the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Frank Quattrone, CEO of San Francisco’s Qatalyst Partners, a high-tech financial advisory firm, and Palo Altore capitalist Burt McMurtry and his wife, Deedee.

“So much of the money here is new money and you have to have money for a while before you feel comfortable giving it away,” said Deedee McMurtry. Maybe to make their point that not enough people are stepping forward to keep the arts vibrant, someone should consider staging a performance of the “Artful Dodger.”—Bruce Trachtenberg