While the emotional and psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic is still being assessed, we now have numbers to attach to the economic devastation being visited on arts institutions. The Guthrie Theater, one of the nation's largest regional theater companies and a flagship of Twin Cities arts and culture, is reporting a record $2.72 million operating loss.
The theater abruptly shut down in mid-March, in the middle of its 2019-2020 fiscal year, which runs Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. At the time, its planned annual 2020 budget was $28.7 million, but in actuality that figure was cut to $18.9 million against actual expenses of $21.6 million.
The $2.72 million difference might be covered with an as-yet-unforgiven $3.17 million Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan via the federal CARES Act.
The largest previous operating loss happened in 1996, when the splashy, Broadway-aimed production of "Babes in Arms" lost $1 million.
The Guthrie is one of the most financially stable operations in the Twin Cities arts community, signaling more dire reports to come.
So far, Minnesota arts organizations have reported mixed financial results, while saying the worst of COVID-19's effects are yet to come.
Last month, the Minneapolis Institute of Art blamed the pandemic for its first budget loss in 27 years — a $1.23 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ended June 30. But Walker Art Center managed to balance its budget for the fiscal year, thanks in part to federal PPP funding.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra also balanced its budget. But the Minnesota Orchestra, which has a much bigger payroll, is expected to report heavy losses when it issues its annual report sometime next week.
The Guthrie, which held its annual meeting virtually this year, said that it is continuing to do a host of programs, including play development. It also hopes that its fiscal loss will be made up with forgiveness of a PPP loan.
"The theater is in a stable position, our sails are set and our guiding stars are clear," artistic director Joseph Haj said. "We will continue to make decisions through the lens of our mission, vision and core values."
The Guthrie drew $2.24 million from its endowment, which has a balance of $53.56 million.
The 2019-2020 abridged season included Haj's poetic revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," starring Carey Cox with Remy Auberjonois and Jennifer Van Dyck; director Lisa Rothe's production of "Steel Magnolias," and "Twelfth Night" with Emily Gunyou Halaas and Sun Mee Chomet.
The Guthrie also offered an indelible production of "The Bacchae" by auteur Anne Bogart and SITI Company, and a festival of Arab American plays, including Heather Raffo's "Noura."
The pandemic, coupled with the racial justice reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, brought the theater's core values, including equity, diversity and inclusion, into high relief.
The Guthrie raised funds through an emergency relief campaign, ticket donations, a virtual benefit and the theater's annual fund. Altogether, its donor base grew 29% over the previous season, contributing 44% of the theater's budget.
The Guthrie also doled out more than 180 grants for out-of-work artists and laid-off staff.
The pandemic impacts on the Guthrie's budget are likely to extend over three fiscal years, said Managing Director James Haskins. For example, if the PPP loan is forgiven, it will show up as income in the 2021 fiscal year.
Additionally, the company is on the hook for about $800,000 in unemployment claims, which the self-insured theater covers.
"Most people think that unemployment insurance is magic money that comes from the government, but it is a significant expense for us," Haskins said. He added that he was sad to see his staff go but also grateful for the support the theater has received.
"The way people stepped up — we were truly shocked and to this day remain grateful how people value not just the Guthrie, but arts and culture in the Twin Cities and state," Haskins said. "People want to make sure we're in a position to come back and as boldly as we can when it's safe to do."
The pandemic-abbreviated season had 14 productions with 283 performances that drew 181,364 in-person patrons.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390