Sometimes a story just isn’t all that interesting. This past week, I did an interview with local media at their request, about The Grand’s annual payment of a ticket service surcharge fee to the City of Oshkosh as a user-based contribution towards the cost of the emergency repair to The Grand in 2009-10. The finished story read a little unflattering, for reasons I will attempt to correct— but then it was also picked up in an opinion piece by a local commentator who went to town on us, also using incorrect information.
Let me be clear. I know both the reporter and the commentator, and I respect them for their work, which I know they are very serious about. And the media outlets—the newspaper and the radio station involved, each are and have been strong supporters of The Grand, and I’m appreciative of that. But I also owe it to all of the people who worked so hard on The Grand project during that time, to put out an accurate version of this story.
To get the facts straight, I did not have to go far. I went to the letter sent by the Opera House Foundation to the Oshkosh City Council, dated August 18. 2009. I would assume this is a public record document that was available to anyone had it been requested. In the letter, the details of the Foundation’s proposed contribution to the project is stated as follows:
“The Oshkosh Opera House Foundation has voted to commit to contributing up to $250,000 to the repair project. These funds will be raised in the form of a service fee on ticket sales for the amount collected commencing with the 2010-11 season, or through private contributions, or a combination of both, until such amount is raised or for a period of ten years, whichever is sooner, and as long as the City retains a lease with the Oshkosh Opera House Foundation.”
I did not add any italics, but I would guess you can figure out which words were left out…
As the person who lived and worked at Grand ground-zero for those eighteen months, let me set the stage a little. The week prior, some councilors had expressed a desire for local dollars to be raised in support of the repair to the Opera House, which is owned by the City. A tremendous groundswell of grassroots support resulted, ranging from fundraiser offers, to coin jars. The Foundation board felt it was necessary to acknowledge the outstanding community support that was growing, and in doing so, also decided to create a mechanism to provide additional funds. So the fund was created, and the letter was written, all this in advance of the August 25,2009 council meeting where ultimately there was a 7-0 vote in favor of committing funds needed to immediate repair. The level of support, how it would be raised, is outlined crystal clear in the letter. Unfortunately, the words “up to” seem to have been lost in the pieces that came out this week, and that’s sad. I remember vividly that period, because not only was there a humbling amount of community support, and a thoughtful participation by members of the Foundation Board, but I also remember that the members of the City Council, though not all in agreement, were willing to take the time out of their schedules for thoughtful, intelligent discourse. It was an extremely civil process, and it stood out in its political civility.
Now, I’m no Pollyanna. Not everyone’s in agreement on the issues of the arts and its value to the community, or to The Grand as a “state of mind” as well an anchor institution in our community. Not everyone in the world wanted that vote to be successful. And that’s OK. But a negative story or commentary needs to remain an opinion piece, and an opinion I am proud to counter with my own views on the arts, namely, that they are a tool for education, a tool for economic growth, a tool for maintaining a sense of history and community. The facts themselves are clear. The Foundation board committed to creating a fund for designated donations, to adding a ticket service fee, and to turning that ticket service fee over to the city for 10 years or until $250,000 was raised, whichever came first, a total commitment of up to $250,000. The fund has been established, and donations are always welcome. The ticket service fee has been implemented, and a check has been written to the city, without fanfare, after each of the last two seasons.
So I guess the headline would more accurately read:
“Opera House Foundation continues to honor commitment to City of Oshkosh”.
Not nearly as interesting, I guess…but far more satisfying.