Fifteen Frequently-Asked Questions About TSC's Education Program Civic Funding Loss and the Termination of its Office Lease by the City of Germantown
In June, the City of Germantown's Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted not to fund Tennessee Shakespeare Company's thriving education program for what would have been its sixth year. In September, the City served notice to TSC that its office lease would not be renewed on June 30, 2013, and that the company had until then to vacate its City-owned train depot, which TSC has used as its administrative office for over five years.
Many questions have been asked of TSC's Board of Directors and staff over the past several weeks regarding the City's recent actions. We thought it would be helpful to collect the 15 most frequently asked questions and share TSC's responses with you.
"Why is the City of Germantown removing Tennessee Shakespeare Company from the train depot office?"
TSC's depot lease with the City ends on June 30, 2014, and the City has let us know far in advance that they will not renew the lease.
"Has the City said why it won't renew the lease?"
The City says it wants to return the depot to its former use as a train museum. However, the depot currently is a train museum filled with the same items that were in it when TSC moved into the depot in 2008. TSC's contract with the City stipulates that TSC should continue to operate the depot as a museum and provide touring docent service, which TSC has provided 5-7 days per week, from 9am-5pm, at considerable cost.
"Who was operating the depot before TSC moved in?"
It was vacant and locked.
"What is the City's strategic plan to staff the building and sustain the upgrades as TSC has done?"
An Alderman confirms for TSC that there is no plan in place currently, nor has there been during the last five years.
"This doesn't make sense. Is there another reason the City would end its lease with TSC?"
Multiple Aldermen have stated that the City's ending of the lease is a political consequence for TSC (and its supporters) speaking out publicly about the potential loss of education funding from the City and for TSC responding to media requests for information in the wake of the City's unanimous decision not to fund TSC for FY14.
"That sounds like an infringement of our right to free speech. Is it?"
TSC strongly believes that elected officials in a democratic society should welcome free and open debate without the threat of negative financial or political consequences.
"What are you going to do about it?"
TSC will continue to support classical education programming in our community and continue to be transparent in our call for support and open debate. A function of theatre is to ensure free speech, support multiple views, and to speak truth to power with respect. We are emboldened to continue our work in the classrooms and on the stage.
"The Germantown Mayor was quoted in The Commercial Appeal several weeks ago as saying she was unsure on which municipalities' students the civic funds were being spent. That sounded like she was calling your spending criteria into question. Is that how you took it?"
We did. The quote was baseless. For five consecutive years, the City funded TSC's education programs. Part of the criteria for continued funding was the submission of quarterly and annual reports. All of these reports were submitted by TSC and accepted by the City, and each reflected a growing program for Germantown students that exceeded its programmatic goals for which civic funding was made available.
"Did you see any of this coming?"
We were informed in April of this year that the City administration would recommend zero education funding to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to pass. But before this, TSC invested substantial funds and the City invested over $53,000 in collaborative designwork on an outdoor amphitheatre in Germantown. We worked on that for over three years, but the City eventually decided that the project was not "green" enough. There is now a large telecommunications tower on the site, near Morgan Woods Park.
"Don't the Mayor and the Aldermen want to create their own education system in Germantown that will ensure quality education, beginning next year?"
Yes, as do the citizens. That vote passed.
"Since Germantown is unique, in part, because of its professional and educational cultural arts programming, wouldn't they want professional Shakespeare on its stages and in its classrooms to help drive enrollment?"
TSC will remain open to future conversations with the municipal school system administration, and we will remain hopeful of a partnership that will continue to enhance our students' education and our citizens' cultural lives. We believe there is extraordinary opportunity for our arts organizations to collaborate on an initial municipal schools' arts curriculum that would earn national attention for replication.
"The City made substantial civic funds available to TSC. Cuts needed to be made. That's a fact of life. What did the City get as a return on its investment?"
More than $2 million in economic impact, according to an "Economic Development Report" created by David Ciscel of Christian Brothers University. More importantly, TSC helped positively develop our community's young people through Shakespeare.
"You performed a benefit in September to help restore education funding. How did that go?"
Very well. We greatly modified our performance season to make that happen, with many people contributing their talents to raise $10,000 toward modified education restoration. This means we will be able to say "yes" when Germantown children, parents, or teachers call us and want us in their classrooms or want to attend special morning matinees at a steep discount. However, we have had to eliminate all long-term residencies, prelude scenes, curriculum-building, and the Romeo and Juliet Project due to the funding loss.
"Didn't you receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the Romeo and Juliet Project?"
We did, we are proud to say. TSC was one of only 40 regional theatres in the United States to receive the Shakespeare in American Communities grant, and we were also the youngest. The grant is for $25,000, which our supporters quickly matched, to take the Project, which was piloted in Germantown two years ago, into Memphis schools. The NEA funds may not be used to replace lost City of Germantown civic funds.
"Where are you going to go now? I want you to stay."
Thank you. We have received hundreds of supportive letters and calls asking us to stay in Germantown or nearby. Too many of our patrons, supporters, Board members, students, and volunteers are citizens of Germantown. TSC respects their voices and desires, and we will continue to make every effort to serve our community. We are in the midst of making multiple site visits, and we look forward to providing you with an update on the search soon.
It is important to note that TSC remains deeply grateful to those Aldermen and officials who helped establish a professional, classical theatre company in Germantown beginning in 2006. TSC would not be of service to others were it not for the City's collaboration and support. It has been an investment on which TSC promised it would provide substantial return – and has. Even this year, the City is making nearly $13,000 of in-kind services available to TSC to perform at the City-owned Germantown Performing Arts Center. And though this figure is not the $30,000 that several elected officials described to our supporters in return emails in May and June, still it is meaningful and does not go unacknowledged. This five-year investment warrants long-term care and cultivation, and we are hopeful that the City's Board of Mayor and Aldermen will acknowledge that in the future. The benefits to our City are clear, as are the voices of the citizens.
As Sicinius, a Roman representative of the middle-class citizenry, says in a public forum in William Shakespeare's political tragedy, Coriolanus:
"What is the City but the People?!"