"Economic downturn" is a fantastic euphemism: It sounds like a small frown, a furrowed brow, in what's becoming a grade-A, freak-the-hell-out situation. And when corporations and fat cats start cutting their budgets, opera tickets and museum donations are the first to go. (Not to mention all of us who won't even be able to afford to go out anymore. Netflix über alles!) So what is going to get hit worst? Will the collapse of WaMu sink SAM? Will the Rep go belly-up? Will restaurants even exist anymore? Welcome to the pity party. BYOB.
The survey was brief and depressing. Theater fundraisers and arts administrators said everything looked bleak. Individual giving: down. Corporate giving: "shit." Foundation giving: wobbly, as low interest rates are killing portfolios. Subscription revenue: been declining for 15 years, is declining faster. Ben Moore, managing director at the Rep, says it's selling roughly the same number of subscription packages this year, but people are signing up for three- and four-play packages instead of full seasons—which means that household economies are suffering. Both Moore and Carlo Scandiuzzi, the executive director at ACT, suspect things will keep getting worse. "Next year, you're going to see a different organization at the Rep," Moore sighed. "I've been in the business for 40 years and people who are in the know say they've never seen anything like this." Then, early this week, the Rep announced it would close its autumn blockbuster—The Three Musketeers—a week early because it couldn't afford to keep it open. Big theater is fucked. BRENDAN KILEY
Fringe theater is the cockroach of the art world—nimble, adaptable, quick to die in individual iterations, but impossible to kill as a whole. (No matter how hard we try.) Ticket revenues are down for some fringe theaters (Art-attack Ensemble) and up for others (Annex). Company members are having to take extra jobs and work extra hours, leaving less time for extracurricular art-making. (Which may change if unemployment spikes.) The silver lining: cheaper real estate. If theaters keep operating like small music bars, keeping prices down and drinks handy, they should weather the storm. And for the real cockroach companies—who beg, borrow, squat, and steal—it could be a golden age. BRENDAN KILEY
According to Billboard, CD sales declined 11 percent through the first half of 2008, although this dip was smaller than that which occurred for the same period in 2007 (15.1 percent). What has gone up? Legal digital albums (34.4 percent) and individual tracks (30 percent) and vinyl purchases (46.2 percent, according to the RIAA—note that vinyl sales have been rising, even as it's getting more expensive to manufacture it). While three of the four major labels slightly lost market share, indie labels jumped from 12.9 to 13.9 percent. In fact, local indie Sub Pop had one of its strongest years ever in 2007 and is doing well this year, too, according to vice president of sales Andy Kotowicz. Many of Sub Pop's acts tour like beasts, including Seattle's Fleet Foxes, whose debut album passed 100,000 in sales in early October.
At brick-and-mortar music retail shops, sales plummeted about 10–20 percent in the local stores surveyed, but vinyl sales continue to surge. Manager David Miranda of Everyday Music's Capitol Hill outlet notes, "Now we're doing like $12,000 a month in new vinyl sales, whereas in July 2006 we were doing zero. That's one of the reasons we're maintaining our numbers. If we just sold CDs, I don't think we'd be able to maintain." He also cites an increase in turntable sales.
Music venues haven't gone unscathed by the economic downturn, either. The Triple Door's talent booker Scott Giampino says the club's "ticket sales are on par with last year [its best ever], but costs of operations, equipment, supplies, and labor are all up. Dramatically." Small venues like the Comet and the Sunset will probably be fine—depressions are for drinking. DAVE SEGAL
In art, it's about the shoe: At the Frye Art Museum, it's dropping already; at the Henry Art Gallery, department heads are preparing for it to drop; and at Seattle Art Museum, there's no official position about the shoe.
Jennifer Aydelott, SAM's director of development, answered specific questions via e-mail: "Yes, we have noticed some decreased gifts, but we have also noticed increased giving as well." SAM spokeswoman Nicole Griffin said there is no indication yet that the WaMu collapse will have an adverse effect on the museum. SAM receives $1.8 million in rent from the bank annually; the museum, as of now, expects to hold the same lease with JPMorgan Chase. (WaMu was not an annual-fund donor; it sponsored one-off events.) Griffin also said the endowment is down, but she couldn't say by how much, and she added that the fact that the museum does not have a larger endowment (it only accounts for 20 percent of the museum's income) may be a silver lining in this case. "We're in a wait-and-see mode," Griffin said.
Meanwhile Henry director Sylvia Wolf said the museum has made no staff cuts—yet. The Frye, according to director Midge Bowman, recently had to axe its experimental teen-education program, largely because rentals are down at the warehouses the free museum owns, which provide a large part of its income.
Commercial galleries are apprehensively gearing up for the giant annual fair Art Basel Miami Beach, which is usually a cash cow (business at London's Frieze Fair was slow recently, but the two may not be comparable, dealer Greg Kucera said), and anxiously awaiting the outcome of the election to see which way consumers will go. "By Miami, maybe the country will be on an optimistic spending spree," Kucera said. "If McCain gets in, then we're just screwed and everybody knows it."
As for individual artists, they live lean and on day jobs in the first place. They get support from organizations like Artist Trust, which just announced its largest round of grants ever, and solidarity from collectives like SOIL, which just beat its previous annual auction record (making $28,000 in art sales).
The shoe in art: erratic. JEN GRAVES
Well, let's be honest here. Film probably isn't the most fucked (sorry, theater). I mean, movies are movies. People go to movies. Hollywood isn't going out of business. We might see some changes in the types of wide-release films that get made: heavy on escapism, rags-to-riches, talking animals, stuff that makes middle America feel cozy inside. And as for luxury enterprises like Redmond's soon-to-open Gold Class Cinema—where tickets are $35 (weeding out the riffraff, you see) and patrons sip champagne in plush recliners—um, good luck, guys.
Our smaller local theaters—the ones that won't be screening megamonsters like Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold or whatever—might not fare so well. Though SIFF artistic director Carl Spence calls the film industry "recession-proof," it sounds like indie theaters are getting ready for a few lean years. "We will be doing fewer double features," says Guerren Marter, owner of the Grand Illusion. "We will be working closer with the indie film scene to try to curate special events. We will also try to lower our costs for film rental (and shipping, which is a big expense), by showing more video. But we have a new $6,000 video projector—courtesy of a King County grant—so it will still look great." Plus, says Susie Purves, managing director of Northwest Film Forum, "A Northwest Film Forum member can see a movie for $6. Ten bucks gets you the film and a beer after the show. That is hard to beat." LINDY WEST
The recent flourishing of independent filmmaking in Seattle has almost entirely been supported by private equity. True, Northwest Film Forum has a start-to-finish grant and offers filmmakers access to free or inexpensive equipment, but outside of that opportunity there's practically nothing in the way of assistance and financing. Vulcan Productions, which is based in Seattle and owned by the billionaire Paul Allen, has had little to no role in the local filmmaking scene, as it only has eyes for standard films that will make a standard impression on a standard audience. Seattle filmmakers cannot, like their Canadian counterparts, turn to the government for help. What's left? Private individuals with cash to spare.
Zoo, a film I made with the director Robinson Devor, was only made after THINKFilm offered us a negative pickup (money after the film was done—and even getting that check was not easy). Without direct help from Garr Godfrey and Ben Exworthy, Zoo would not have been finished. The investment they made in Zoo was five times more than what I make in a year. Films are fucking expensive! You need at least $150,000 to accomplish a decent-looking picture. Cthulhu cost over $1 million, Police Beat, another film I made with Robinson Devor, cost over $250,000. Yes, Hollywood might laugh at such sums, but in Seattle they are terrific amounts of money.
With the stock market crashing, and more and more people rushing to protect whatever savings or investments they have left, the only source of money for independent filmmaking in Seattle will be lost. This year, at least four independent films were produced here. Next year I will be surprised if even one is made. CHARLES MUDEDE
Bookstores, as a rule, aren't a tremendously profitable endeavor in the first place, and they generally suffer less in recessions. Michael Wells, the owner of Bailey/Coy Books, has recently returned a great deal of old stock to publishers—"Our shelves are thinner than I would've liked at this time of year," he says—but that's standard retail procedure when times are tough.
Two bookstores are expanding their services—Elliott Bay Book Company is remodeling their downstairs cafe into a bistro, to be managed by Brasa's Tamara Murphy, and Ravenna Third Place Books is replacing their cafe with Vios, a Greek restaurant. Though the expansion was planned "before the economy turned from its shaky flight pass into a full-blown nosedive," Third Place managing partner Robert Sindelar says the new restaurant will help people "come together to interact with their neighbors," which he insists is an important function of a bookstore in tough economic times. Whether launching a new restaurant is the way to enhance community in a recession remains to be seen.
The chance that your favorite neighborhood used-bookstore is going to go out of business is relatively tiny. Kristina Barnes, the owner of South Lake Union's Inner Chapters Bookstore and Cafe, says, "Used bookstores have a big advantage during hard economic times." Jamie Lutton, owner of Twice Sold Tales, says foot traffic at the new Capitol Hill store is "sort of slow," but in pace with the neighborhood, and their sales remain "about the same." PAUL CONSTANT
The belt-tightening is already happening, going out to dinner is the definition of a luxury, and yes, Seattle, all those restaurants do make you look fat. Closures over the last couple months include Coupage, Pike's Bar & Grill, Blackbird Bistro, Villa Victoria, and Veil. The couple of months before that: QUBE, Market Street Grill, Zagi's Pizza, the Wellington, Mixtura, Mistral (though the owner's planning a new place, which, if he's smart, he'll seriously scale back). Note the geographic dispersal, as well as the price range: from Columbia City to Ballard, superexpensive to practically takeout. Note also that lots of these places were well reviewed: What reviewers say couldn't matter less to ol' Market Forces.
Restaurants always come and go, for a variety of reasons, but there's going to be a lot of going. Eric Bahn of Monsoon estimates business for everyone across the board will be down 20 to 30 percent ("Everybody will have to change their lifestyle"). Those opening new places have reason for trepidation; these are projects started many moons back, and there's no backing out. Bahn's opening a second Monsoon in Bellevue next month, about which he says, "It doesn't look very cheerful." Bellevue has also got an imminent new 125-seat El Gaucho (with six private rooms) and a 200-seat pricey place called Pearl opening and, well, Bellevue's not that rich. In the city, Capitol Hill's looking overserved: Newcomers Poppy and Spinasse will be joined by an Ethan Stowell place (Anchovies and Olives), an endeavor from the Purple people (Barrio), and another Linda Derschang spot (yet to be named). These will all be within five blocks of each other, and within 10 blocks of approximately 27 other restaurants. When I posted on Slog in July forecasting doom, commenter blank12357 responded, "There will be blood in Madrona. Coupage, Dulces, Crémant, St. Clouds, Cafe Soleil, Bistro Turkuaz, and the Hi Spot are all stacked on top of each other, but the street is never busy, and there's not much else going on there to bring people out." Coupage is already gone. (Crémant just started serving brunch—longer hours are one way to try to stay afloat. The Capitol Hill Monsoon just started a happy hour—ditto, and good for newly impoverished would-be regular customers.)
According to Nancy Leson at the Seattle Times, an Edmonds restaurant—the Shell Creek Grill—just initiated a pay-what-you-like policy in order to get bodies at the tables. Desperation has rarely smelled quite so strong. Restaurants: I'm sorry, but YIKES. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT
Providing they're not stupid-high-concept—that is, stupid-high-priced—bars will be fine. A drink at a bar is a tiny, inexpensive tropical isle in a sea of penury. The company of others while drinking is a solace, and getting drunk with strangers can turn them into people you're having sex with, and sex is (ideally) free fun. People will drink in bars until they're homeless, and even after. I'm going to a bar right now. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT