The Case for a New Federal Theater Project

The $15 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant — the federal program formerly known as Save Our Stages — isn’t exactly a new Federal Theater Project. But according to Nataki Garrett, the arts leader who has become one of the country’s most vocal advocates for government support of the theater sector, the SVOG represents a dawning bipartisan realization of just how important the arts are to the health of the nation’s economy.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“The march towards getting access to [what was then called] the SOS was revelatory for a lot of our theaters,” said Garrett, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. She went on to describe how a loose coalition of non-profit theaters from around the country played a vital part in calling attention to the sector’s contributions to the economy. “It taught us, as an ecology, that we could all work together and make something happen.”

She added, “Collective action is at the center of the work that we do. That kind of response is what’s needed in order to make sure that the field emerges.”

The argument behind their advocacy, she explained, went like this: “There has to be a federal response to bring back the arts. It’s 4.6% of the GDP. We’re talking about millions of jobs, millions of lives, millions of careers, millions of dollars in resources,” she said. “We’re talking about all the other lobbies that rely so heavily on arts, like the restaurants located adjacent to museums and theater. We’re talking about how interdependent the whole ecology is.”

Throughout her ongoing work to secure funds for theater and the arts, Garrett was also working to lead the major regional non-profit she had just joined in 2019. On the new Stagecraft, she talked about confronting upheavals in 2020 that included not just the pandemic and the uprisings for racial justice, but also the wildfires that ravaged the region around OSF.

At the same time, the pandemic also hastened the theater’s growth into the digital realm with the launch of its O! platform, now serving as a way to engage with both audiences and artists while it’s not yet safe enough to return to theater. “I’m putting a door in your living room right now that you just have to open and come through,” Garrett said.

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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