The Southern downsizes; becomes a rental facility

The Southern Theater released a plan Friday which board members hope will help it emerge from a budgetary crisis, reduce costs and become more accessible to artists.

The Minneapolis theater will become primarily a rental facility for the 2011-2012 season. It projects 40-weeks of performance activity, with a first year budget of just over 165-thousand dollars. That compares to an average one-point-one million dollar budget annually since 2008. It will add its own programming only when it's feasible and fully underwritten. Anne Baker chairs the Southern's board.

"We looked at a number of plans, and this was the one that reduced expenses but increased access. We were looking for a very simple plan and it helps us to stabilize and address these negative cash flows," she said.

The Southern has suffered from chronic cash flow issues for years and had a financial emergency in April when the McKnight Foundation asked it to return 300-thousand dollars in mismanaged grants. Baker said longstanding organizational, operational and managerial problems caused the crisis.

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"For at least seven years, the theater has shouldered too much of the financial risk of presenting and producing performances of dance, music, theater, and film, and has not effectively made the case to enough individuals, foundations, and corporations that donations, sponsorships, and underwriting will produce sufficient added value to merit full support," said Baker.

The Southern is also reducing staff down to one general manager. 32-year old Damon Runnals has been named to that post. Runnals has served as the theater's production and operations manager since 2008.

The position of Executive Director, held by Gary Peterson, is being eliminated as of June 10. Peterson has been elected to the Southern's Board of Directors. His position is the ninth position to be eliminated in recent weeks.

While the Southern is trying shore up its finances by becoming a rental facility, Baker said that move isn't necessarily permanent. She said it's possible the theater could reassume more of a curatorial role in the future.

"I think that that's the board's hope, that we will be able to move back to a time, once we are stable, and we need to refine strategies for future programming, she said. "But that's our hope, that we would be able to do that."