Hello and a very Happy Holidays to all of you!
I think it’s safe to say that most people who are reading this note from me do things for reasons other than making money, although we all have to pay the bills and the crazy college loans and the roofs over our heads. (I will, in my first term as President, forgive all student loans and any parking tickets more than 10 years old.)
But I think we all also believe in things that are more important than money.
For instance, at the State and Bijou theaters, if we made our decisions based purely on making a profit, we would do things very, very differently. We’d have only one show a day (or maybe only be open on weekends). We would stop offering free programs for the local schools and community events. We would end the Saturday morning 25-cent matinees (where most families on low or no incomes get the chance to take the kids to the movies). We would definitely cut the senior citizen Wednesday classics matinees. And we would immediately discontinue holiday specials and Free Spring Break week.
If we ran the State and Bijou like a “real business,” we would double all of our concessions prices beginning yesterday. We would raise all ticket prices by at least $3. We would keep the marquee dark most of the time and not have those lights brightening up Front Street.
And the thing that we do nearly a hundred times a year — allowing community groups like Michael’s Place, Groundwork Center, and Norte! to use the theater for free — that would end. We would no longer be able to do free fundraisers for groups in need. After all, like some would say, “Let them find their own way because there’s no free lunch!” Dog eat dog! Survival of the fittest!
If that’s the world we want to live in, well, we got a good taste of it this week when a group of (mostly) men stood on the White House lawn and cheered the fact that now grad students will have to pay taxes on their student grants, and public school teachers who dig into their own pockets to buy supplies for their classrooms will no longer be able to deduct that from their taxes. After all, we must help the oppressed at the top get some much-needed relief!
With this thinking, it won’t be long before those in charge begin asking, for instance, why doesn’t the library show a damn profit for once? What makes people think they can just read books for free? Making wi-fi “affordable for all?” Who says? You chose to live in a rural area — why the heck should the good people of Grand Rapids and Bloomfield Hills have to pay to put up an antenna in Yuba so you can go online easier?
Look — we still have a choice and a chance to create the better world we want to live in, in spite of our current difficulties.
But I must be honest with you: The Traverse City Film Festival and its not-for-profit year-round movie theaters can no longer function on a wing and a prayer and make these wonderful services free and cheap and available to all. And to write a sentence like that makes me sick. But I walked up and down Front Street the other day and no one would print me any free money. There were tons of good people and businesses, but none of them were crazy enough to have a sign hanging in their windows like the one we do at the State Theatre that says “all active duty members of the armed services who enter here get movie tickets for free.” No city bus says “all ride here for free!” Even our wonderful public utility won’t light up the beach for free.
It’s your support — your membership to the festival and theaters, your generous year-end donations to these projects, your amazing volunteering — that allows us to make all this happen and keep the lights (and the movies) on.
Yet donations to us have been WAY down for the past two years. There are many reasons. What little money working people have to give has had to go to protect the assault on the poor, the immigrants, the people poisoned by the water in Flint, the women who no longer will have free access to family planning. And the nation’s largest theater chain which is owned by a wonderful group of billionaires from the beautiful country of China, has now built the new Cherry Blossom 14 cinemall outside of town, with a big IMAX screen to boot. They have taken away some of our audience — even with their expensive ticket and concessions prices. Last year, our box office take took a $100,000 nosedive. And then our aged HVAC system from the 1940s aged itself out of commission. We have two historic buildings to protect and maintain (which is our great honor), but I and a couple others can’t carry it all on our backs (especially now that I’m a temporarily out-of-work Broadway star! Key word – “temporary!”)
We still need to raise $125,000 for the State’s heating and cooling system to match the MCACA grant and complete the project — and do it before our ancient boiler blows. If that boiler goes out this winter, that’s it for the movies at the State until spring/summer. I hate to put it this way, but that’s just the honest truth of the crisis we’re in.
And just like every year, we still need to raise $100,000 for all of our year-long free and low cost programs, all of our student and community screenings. So far, we’ve raised $6,000. That’s it. We have a long way to go.
If everyone reading this email gave just $10, we’d be able to replace the State’s boiler and cooling system and pay for all of these good things we do. I know, you read appeals like this all the time, but I don’t know how else to put it. In our small town, at the State and Bijou, your gift really, really actually counts.
- $5 allows a student to attend a free educational screening
- $25 gets a military family free admission
- $50 helps offset our losses on bringing the Met Opera series Live from New York
- $100 pays for a broken marquee letter
- $250 allows your favorite community organization to use the theater for free
Please, if you can, make a year-end donation now. It’s easy. Just click here. It all adds up so we can have what Up North towns aren’t supposed to have — an incredible array of movies and events available and affordable to all.
Thank you for letting me rant and share this news with you on a weekend when you should be doing nothing but feeling the beautiful joy of this season and not having to think about boilers blowing out. I just needed to once again affirm my belief in the power of the State Theatre and the film festival and what it has done for Traverse City, for Northern Michigan and for all the budding filmmakers we’ve brought here who have gone on to create incredible works of cinema. YOU helped make that happen. Please help us now in a time a sincerely desperate need. We — and all arts groups and artists — must survive this dark time when the forces who hate art and facts and free thinking hold the reins of power. This will not last, but while it does, we need your help in every way.
All my best, and “have yourself a merry little Christmas, where all our troubles will soon be far away…”
P.S. As if all the above weren’t enough, we’re losing our incredible executive director, Deb Lake, who, after 13 wonderful years, is moving on to the next amazing phase in her life. While she certainly won’t be a stranger to us and I’m certain will be continue to be a guiding force in whatever capacity she’s in, she’ll also be sorely missed. But she built a great core staff of smart, strong women (Susan Fisher, Meg Weichman, and others) who, along with me now back in town, will carry on as usual until we find her replacement. But needless to say — ALL THE MORE REASON WE NEED YOU NOW MORE THAN EVER TO PITCH IN. We’ll have more to say later about how we intend to fete Deb for her accomplishments, but for now please know we’re in good hands and we wish the absolute best for Deb and are excited to see what she will do next! Onward, my friend!