Last week the news broke that the Southern Theater, local home to progressive and experimental theater, dance and music, was still (since Jeff Bartlett’s dismissal in 2008) in the throes of a fiscal crisis. According to the Star Tribune article, “Just in the past week or so, the West Bank theater has been buffeted by the pullout of its major funder, which it owes more than $300,000; the resignation of nearly a third of its board after emergency weekend meetings; and the denial of a pivotal bridge loan.”
According to the article, funds owed to artists awarded the 2010 McKnight Fellowship for Choreography—which is housed at and administered in collaboration with Southern—weren’t dispensed to artists, but rather used to cover the Southern’s operating costs, a practice that began long before current executive director Gary Peterson’s hiring in 2009.
Consequently, McKnight has pulled the fellowship program from the Southern (and is looking for a new program partner) and all of its fiscal support for the theater. Mary Ellen Childs, the much beloved McKnight Fellowship Program Director is out of a job. Peterson told MPR that he “can't predict whether the institution will survive into next year.”
The local arts community has been abuzz with speculation. On Facebook, discussions have focused on board leadership, particularly the coup that ousted board president Susan Lach; a revisiting of the contentious community meetings that followed Bartlett’s ouster as the Southern reorganized its leadership and curatorial structure; and genuine grief at the theater’s ongoing fiscal problems and the prospect of a honored institution’s demise. Stay tuned.