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Theater companies wait for final vote on bonding bill
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The design of the new Guthrie Theater (MPR file photo)
Leaders in the state Legislature have tentatively agreed to a bonding bill that would provide the Guthrie Theater with $25 million for a new multi-stage complex on the riverfront, and $5 million to the Children's Theatre Company to renovate its current space. But even in the final hours of the special session, the battle is far from over for both theater companies.

St. Paul, Minn. — The mood at both the Guthrie Theater and the Children's Theatre Company is tense, to say the least. Over the past four years both theaters have launched ambitious campaigns, and have raised millions of dollars in private money for their respective projects.

Last year, both the CTC and the Guthrie were included in the bonding bill, only to have then-Gov. Jesse Ventura veto them at the last minute. That was before the state faced a multi-billion dollar deficit.

As the Legislature prepares to make final amendments to the bill, House Speaker Steve Sviggum says it's hard to justify having the state borrow money for the Guthrie in the middle of other budget balancing challenges.

"When you're reducing dollars to nursing homes to care for the developmentally disabled by a percent, how can you come forward and pass a bill for the Guthrie more in the arts/entertainment area?" Sviggum says.

Larger view
Image The Children's Theatre's proposed new facility

In light of the current economy, Children's Theatre Company's Artistic Director Peter Brosius says he's thrilled to see funding for his theater's expansion make it this far. He says it shows Minnesotans still understand the power of wise investing.

"You look at how this state has been a leader nationally -- in investing in the arts and investing in education -- and it makes a difference," says Brosius. "It makes a difference in the quality of life, and it makes a difference in the kind of involved citizenry. It makes a difference in this being a leading community where people want to move, and then when they move they never want to leave."

Brosius stresses the Children's Theatre Company is as much about education as it is about arts and entertainment. The Children's Theatre Company wants to expand its current building with plans by well-known architect Michael Graves.

The plans call for the addition of a small theater space for productions written and directed by teens. The CTC also wants more classroom space, so it won't have to turn down students for its many performing arts courses.

Meanwhile, the Guthrie Theater wants to build a new theater complex on the Mississippi River, designed by world-famous architect Jean Nouvel, for staging both great classics as well as newer, edgier works.

The Guthrie's Artistic Director, Joe Dowling, says while he's also thrilled the funding has made it this far in the bonding bill, he's been in this position too many times before to start rejoicing. This is the third time the project has come before the Legislature, and this time around Dowling has had to argue harder than ever.

"What we're saying is this -- in the long term -- makes absolute economic sense. And in the short term it provides a terrific stimulus and a boost," says Dowling. "We have to fight that argument and we continue to do that."

Dowling says if the Guthrie gets the funds it needs from the state, it could break ground this summer and create as many as 1,800 construction jobs by the end of the year.

Dowling says the loss of state funding could have a ripple effect on private fundraising. Dowling says many potential donors have held back, waiting to see if the state would come through with its share before they will commit theirs.

In their favor, both the Guthrie and the Children's Theatre Company have received recent national accolades for their commitment to the arts. This week's Time magazine cites the Guthrie among the top five regional theaters in the nation, and the Children's Theater Company will receive an award for best regional theater at this year's Tony awards.

Dowling says such timely recognition is fortuitous, but to maintain that sort of reputation, both theaters must continue to grow and thrive.

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