The Local Effects of a National Shut Down

Today’s New York Times article, “Without Services, Small Businesses Feel the Pinch”, reports that business owners whose companies depend on government services such as a guaranteed loans, regulatory approval, and the operation of our national parks, worry about the toll the shut down may have on them.

This hits on the same sour notes we’re hearing in the cultural sector of Montgomery County, MD. From the shutdown of the Glen Echo Park Partnership on Arts and Culture (GEPPAC), to ticket, subscription and season package sales at the NationalPhilharmonic and at performance venues like historic Olney Theater around the County, the government shutdown is causing disruptions in business that are certain to damage the fragile upturn many in the arts and humanities sector had just begun to finally feel.

Presenters are reporting that ticket sales have dropped precipitously, citing patrons who are both declining purchases and deferring plans in an effort to once again tighten their purse strings in these uncomfortably familiar uncertain times.

With the school year ramping up, small businesses like the Puppet Co. and Washington Conservatory, to name but a few of the over 450 arts and humanities organizations and over 1500 individual artists in Montgomery County, MD, had just begun their seasons ten days ago. What was anticipated as the start of their seasons has turned into a non-starter.

GEPPAC, situated squarely on National Park Service property, is home to 14 arts organizations like the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery, Silver Works and other small businesses, all of which are shuttered, causing the Park to lose many of its 450,000 yearly patrons, students, evening and weekend crowds exponentially, day by day. Since the October 1 shutdown, conservative estimates of losses in our sector across the County reported to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, MD have already exceeded $600,000 and will quickly topple $1M as this continues. These ten days of a government shutdown alone have been described as a catastrophic disaster. Moving performances and classes from GEPPAC has been an extraordinary challenge. Adventure Theatre is in the midst of its Goodnight Moon production to be followed by its annual Gala next week, and with the Park’s closure it finds itself with no venue for its performance or Gala while performers still need to be paid to stay available for the performance when the Park reopens.

Not to mention what this does to our collective reputations! As small businesses, if your clients fear your venue’s vulnerability with regard to opening and closing its doors, they are not likely to book the venue for weddings, receptions, rehearsals and other earned income opportunities, further depleting your organization’s coffers.

And while we’re discussing impact, it’s critical to keep in mind that these organizations employ accountants, security personnel, carpenters, auditors, facilities and operations managers, students, interns, moms and dads, just like any other small business.

Delays in funding from federal agencies, like the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, National Education Association and closures, like the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution and other agencies, have caused many in the arts and humanities to come to a screeching halt resulting in heavy damage to cultural tourism in the Greater Washington Metro Area. The loss of income for many will have a trickle-down effect that will ripple through all sectors, a ripple that promises to wreak havoc with the County’s overall economy.

Presently, we’ve heard only two good news stories. One, that libraries are booming (unless it is the Library of Congress!). This may be attributed to the fact that libraries are a great place to find things to do with your family while you are out of the office and can’t afford childcare and provides access to the internet (so that you can find a job that’s not with our irresponsible government).

The second good news story is that we are in the midst of our eighth Non-Profit Energy Alliance round, which allows nonprofits in Maryland and DC to use their collective purchasing power to not only secure competitive electricity supply at lower cost, but to protect the environment and build a greener economy by supporting clean sources of energy that are essential to protecting our environment and building a new economy. That’s good news in that, if organizations can save on fixed costs, they’ll have a few extra bucks for program costs which are sure to rise the longer this standoff continues.

Suzan Jenkins is the CEO of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

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