The Guthrie Theater reported Monday that it ended its last fiscal year with a small surplus, at a time when cultural institutions across the nation have been whipsawed by a pandemic that threatens their existence.
Minnesota's flagship theater achieved its positive results after making drastic cuts nearly two years ago that pared the size of the staff by 79%, from 252 to 55. The theater achieved the surplus despite not having a single in-person performance for the entire fiscal year.
The bottom line also was helped by COVID-19 relief funds, including $7.075 million from the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program and $3.165 million from the Paycheck Protection Program. Combined, the money replaced about a third of the income the theater had anticipated earning during that period. The bulk of the Paycheck Protection Program money was from forgiven loan from the previous fiscal cycle, which led the theater to show a $2.7 million deficit.
For the fiscal year that runs Sept. 1, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2021, the Guthrie reported a huge financial outpouring from patrons and supporters. The theater had more than 11,000 donors — 33% more than the previous season and the most in a decade — who donated $7.8 million, or 51% of the Guthrie's $15.3 million income. The theater had expenses of $12.3 million.
In non-COVID times, donors usually contribute 38% to 40% of the budget, said managing director James Haskins.
He attributed the Guthrie's positive overall results to COVID relief funds, cost-cutting measures and Minnesotans' support for the arts.
"Those are the three primary components that got us to where we are today," Haskins said.
The state also provided the Guthrie with $1.2 million in unemployment compensation credits. The theater also had $884,000 in employee retention credits and its endowment grew to $64.8 million.
While the Guthrie had no live performances during the fiscal year, the theater did continue with its programming by holding online shows, commissions and collaborative efforts.
Artistic director Joseph Haj teamed up with filmmaker E.G. Bailey for a film version of "Dickens' Holiday Classic," which was seen by viewers from 87 Minnesota counties, all 50 states and 15 countries.
"As we wrestled mightily with what it means to be a theater when we could not put plays onstage, we found ample opportunity to stretch and grow," Haj said in a statement.
The Guthrie partnered with MN Black Theatre Circle coalition for a monthly series of virtual performances from October 2020 through May 2021, which culminated in a "Blackness Is…" arts festival on the anniversary of George Floyd's death.
The theater also commissioned playwrights, including Karen Zacarias of "Native Gardens," MacArthur "genius" fellow Larissa FastHorse and Mark Rylance of "Don't Look Up."
Now, the Guthrie is in the process of building back its staff. Sounding a note of optimism, Haskins drew a historic parallel.
"A pandemic closed down theaters for 14 months just as Shakespeare was coming along and it shut down theater time and again," he said. "This is a new situation for us but we have examples of how resilient theater has been in the past and will continue to be in the future."