On Tuesday, representatives from the board of directors at both BIG ARTS and The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater - who together are responsible for bringing to the island some of the finest musicians, actors and arts-related activities - announced plans for a merger.
If approved, both non-profit organizations would be blended into a single entity, operated under the BIG ARTS umbrella, effectively creating one of the largest arts conglomerates in Southwest Florida.
"The whole point of the merger and gift is to keep live theater alive and well on the islands and to secure the arts in a rough economy. It is our intention to have good theater and good programs," said Jim Boler, a longtime benefactor of BIG ARTS and The Schoolhouse Theater Foundation. "With this combination of talent, we certainly can make it happen."
But is the merger, in reality, a good thing?
The joining of forces of both organizations, each one of them successful in their own right, certainly will make their collaborative efforts even stronger. But does this plan to merge these groups indicate a weakness in either one?
Not as we see it.
Could BIG ARTS and The Schoolhouse Theater continue to operate individually? Probably, but during a time of prolonged economic distress, will merging these organizations - and dissolving The Schoolhouse Theater Foundation - be of benefit to both?
Chances are it will.
As part of the proposed merger, the staffs of both groups will be blended together as one, thus making the new "arts family" a more efficient and financially stable organization. A future together means that neither group will be competing for dollars derived from supporters of BIG ARTS or The Schoolhouse; as one, they will be able to schedule performances, classes, seminars, fundraisers and special events in a more effective manner.
In addition, a $1 million challenge grant to the BIG ARTS Endowment Fund has been pledged by Boler and his wife, Mary Jo, which will be dedicated specifically to supporting the theater's operations in perpetuity.
As a result, BIG ARTS will grow, The Schoolhouse Theater will receive additional financial support and the arts will continue to thrive on Sanibel. Talk about a "win-win" for everyone!
We support the proposed BIG ARTS/Schoolhouse Theater merger and urge the members of the Schoolhouse Theater Foundation to vote in favor of the structural change next week. And we look forward to a brighter future for the arts on the island.
- Reporter editorial