Southern Theater lays off five, cuts hours of remaining staff

Bowing to financial realities the Southern Theater today laid off five staff members and cut the hours of the remaining four.

Executive Director Gary Peterson says it’s the responsible thing to do. The Southern launched an emergency fund drive almost three weeks ago to raise $400,000 by last Saturday. In a posting on the Southern’s website today Board Chair Anne Baker says it’s received $45,000 in donations plus a further $50,000 at the Southern Exposure fundraiser on Saturday.

Both Baker and Peterson say the $400,000 target is still attainable, but in the meantime the Southern needs to prepare for the tight financial situation by developing a new sustainable structure. Speaking by phone this evening Gary Peterson said the 15 member board is now working on that.

“People are asking, and rightfully curious, what we are asking them to invest in, and we are moving as quickly as we can,” he continued. He says the board hopes to flesh out that structure in the next two weeks.

However the board also eliminated the Southern’s dance and theater curator positions, the part-time communications manager, and two full-time production positions.

Peterson says those positions may not be restored even if the Southern makes its goal.

“No, some of those positions are gone for the foreseeable future, and others may come back in some fashion,” he said.

Peterson, who is one of the people whose hours have been cut said he and others at the Southern are still working with various foundations in Minnesota and outside to see what might be possible. The Southern website also reports the possibility local artists may launch another fundraiser.

Still outstanding however is the repayment of $300,000 to the McKnight Foundation which were funds intended for dance grants which ended up in the Southern’s general fund. Finding that money will be over and above the $400,000 requested in the appeal.

Peterson sounded sad as a result of the layoffs, but he is an optimist, and he remains ever hopeful. He says just looking back over the last few days he sees a remarkable effort, and change in an organization he hopes to lead back to strength.

“We have made more progress in the last three weeks than in the last three years,” he said.

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