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For arts groups, no revival yet
Recession pushes Milton Theatre to the brink of foreclosure
By RACHEL KIPP and JENNIFER PRICE • The News Journal • January 5, 2010
The historic Milton Theatre has survived fires, flooding and a partial roof and balcony collapse. But benefactors worry the 100-year-old theater may not survive the recession.
The theater’s board of directors sent an e-mail (subject line: HELP) to supporters last week warning that the theater, which reopened in 2003 after a volunteer-led effort ended 30 years of sitting empty, faces foreclosure.
“The trouble is, we have no angel with deep pockets,” said board President Ellen Passman. “Many of these kinds of places are saved by one or two people who have big bucks. This is more like the March of Dimes, and it always has been. But we’re trying to develop theater for the entire community, for the entire Delmarva Peninsula.”
Although the situation isn’t as dire for other Delaware arts organizations, many are expressing similar sentiments. As a second year of economic turmoil came to an end, Delaware’s museums, orchestras, theaters and other cultural groups were still drawing crowds, but many continue to struggle for fundraising dollars as donors curb their giving.
“You’re gaining less ground than before and people are tending to make contributions to charities that they view as essential services to people in need, [such as] food,” said Wayne Holden, an outgoing board member of the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover. “If people have given, let’s say, an extra $200 or $250 to the food bank, when it comes time to give to an art league or the Biggs Museum or the Schwartz Center, if they had given $200 last year they might cut that to $100 for this year.”
Built about 1910, the landmark Milton Theatre originally showed silent movies. In 1962, a nor’easter caused the nearby Broadkill River to overflow into the building, ruining the cloth seats and dousing a screening of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii.”