Friday, July 3, 2009

skylight's last ditch effort?

in may of 2009, the skylight opera theatre applied for a $25,000 wisconsin arts board grant made available through the american recovery and reinvestment act (the stimulus plan) designed to provide "salary support for one or more positions that are integral to an organization's mission and are in danger of being eliminated."

the company has reportedly applied for a similar grant directly available through the national endowment for the arts, likely twice that of the wab grant.

audio from the june 8th wisconsin arts jobs panel discussion of the skylight's grant application provides insight into reasons for recommending the grant be denied. (applicants with a higher score – closer to 40 – were more likely to receive the funding.)

the audio appears to suggest the skylight claimed three jobs were "at-risk" – resident music director, company manager, and artistic director. the proposed solution was to combine the company manager's job with that of the artistic director. the panel member featured in the clip suggests the skylight's grant application was not only poorly written, but perhaps not believable:
"This one I found really frustrating. I think if they had written this up differently I would have given them a much better score. I think if they had just asked for the music director, that would have made a lot of sense to me, but I don't think its my job to fix their application for them, and so I based it on what they wrote.

To me combining the Artistic Director with the Company Manager position really amounts to eliminating the Company Manager position. This is not the Artistic Director position actually being jeapordized. It does mean the Artistic Director may be absorbing some other responsibilities. I also kind of had the reaction of, 'Really? Is that really what they're going to do? Or is this just their strategy in the application?'

the fact that in may of this year the skylight was looking for money to continue the artistic director position would seem to suggest eliminating the post was not something planned months in advance.

the arts board approved the panel reccomendations on june 12. bill theisen, diana alioto and three other skylight employees lost their jobs on june 16. resident music director jamie johns was fired later that same week.

was this application simply a ruse to get grant monies, as the panel member seems to suggest, or had this grant come through on 6/12, would theisen and others not have been fired on 6/15? if the skylight receives the nea grant, which reportedly has a similar structure (i.e. the money is to be used for "at-risk" staff positions) could those positions be reinstated in some form?

an announcement on the nea grant results is due any day.


  1. So all that was needed to keep Bill's position was $25,000? That is a far cry from what we have been hearing from Suzanne. I have to say the more I hear, the less I understand what the heck is going on at Skylight. What a mess.

  2. it seems unlikely that adding this $25,000 grant (had it been approved) with the salary of an eliminated company manager could have added up to the AD's salary.

    the WAB grant + the NEA grant would add up to $75,000, but the two are exclusive - being awarded the NEA grant disqualifies you for this particular WAB grant. (again...the NEA recipients should be announced any day.)

    there is a possibility that the NEA will award a $50,000 grant to a wisconsin organization that has already been chosen to receive the $25,000 WAB grant. in that case, the WAB grant would be pulled, and distributed to an organization that was initially denied. for example, the skylight.

  3. everybody continues to miss the point.

    "I can't pay the rent so I'm divorcing my wife."

    That's the domestic equivalent of the Skylight's decision. They couldn't keep up the building, so they fired the artistic director.

    and the company manager
    and the music director
    and the box office manager
    and the asst. box office manager
    and a custodian

  4. Does anyone feel like an investigation for improprieties is not far behind? It just seems like they are misrepresenting things to everyone - artists, the press, people who could give them MONEY - I think that this is going beyond a simple power grab to complete mismanagement.

  5. So this clearly says - Jamie's job was in jeopardy BEFORE he was let go for insubordination -

    And that their development staff cannot write an effective grant requst, but are still employed - I know my board would call for my head if these comments were made on a grant I had written-

  6. Again, I will speak to what I know. If it is true that the Skylight is allowing use of its bar space by a separate restaurant/bar service entity, and is not receiving a hefty (no pun) income from this endeavor, then that is, also, something gone very wrong.

    The bar/rental income should be enough at very minimum to cover the salary of one of the fired personnel AND the bar manager/rental manager.

    This might be something else to investigate, Tony.

  7. Also, they laid-off the Grants Manager in November of 2008 saying that they were eliminating the full-time position. They later hired a part-time Grants Manager with the same title who had no grant-writing experience.


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