Viterbo University, St. Mary’s University, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Winona State University are cultural and
arts centers for their communities.
All four universities play a vital role in providing entertainment and culture for the residents of the La Crosse and Winona regions.
UW-L and WSU, two public universities, depend upon department budgets, student fees, foundation grants and tickets for their theater, arts and music offerings to the community.
Viterbo and St. Mary’s, which offer performing arts series, depend more on business and community support and operate more like a business.
In La Crosse, Viterbo is also a major venue for the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, music events and dance recitals.
“Viterbo is an epicenter for arts and entertainment in the region,” said Michael Ranscht, director of Viterbo’s Fine Arts Center. “That is our guiding force.
“There is something going on all the time here, except Christmas through New Year’s, and sometimes there are more than one or two events in one day,” he said.
The Bright Star Season, NexStar Season and Ronald McDonald Arts for Young America offer quality and major entertainment for the community, Ranscht said.
Ranscht, who has run the Fine Arts Center for 20 of its 41 years, has an annual budget of $700,000 to $800,000 with nine professional staff members and 75 part-time student employees.
“It takes a lot of people and support from the community to keep a place like the Fine Arts Center going,” he said.
Sponsors key to keeping arts affordable
Ticket sales make up about half of his budget, but business sponsorships, individual donations, grants, rental fees and university funding provide the remainder of the funds, Ranscht said.
“Artists’ fees keep going up, and there are many artists we cannot afford, so ticket prices have to go up,” Ranscht said.
Twenty years ago, a Broadway show ticket cost $20, but this year the ticket for “Shrek the Musical” is $55, he said. “It costs a lot more today to bring some great artists and shows to town, and business sponsorships help offset those costs,” Ranscht said.
Viterbo has 21 business sponsors this season for its
performing arts series. The biggest is Ronald McDonald House of Charities, which funds the children’s theater family series.
“We need business sponsorships to help keep ticket prices down, and businesses find value in what we do,” Ranscht said.
He said 90,000 people attend an event in Viterbo’s Fine Arts Center each year.
About 17,000 to 18,000 children attend an event at Viterbo annually. Viterbo also offers a school theater and performing arts series for student audiences.
“Part of our mission is reaching young people and bringing the arts to them,” Ranscht said.
St. Mary’s in Winona stages two performing arts series — the Page Series and Off the Page series. Patrick Grace, general manager for the St. Mary’s Performing Arts Center, said corporate sponsorships from local banks, small businesses and media are important to the operational budget.
“Balance is my goal to help fund the events,” Grace said. “Business sees great value in the arts.
“One of my goals is growing the audience age 5 and up, and providing events that a family feels comfortable being a part of, and we think more about children and grandchildren being exposed to the live performing arts,” he said. “Business wants to be a part of that.”
During the summer, St. Mary’s is a venue for the Minnesota Beethoven Festival and WSU provides the performance venues for the Great River Shakespeare Festival.
Kathy Peterson, WSU arts administrator, said she has a smaller budget than Viterbo and St. Mary’s and relies on university departments, grants and ticket sales for her budget.
“We are a cultural hub for southeast Minnesota and getting people in the seats is important, and we work hard on community outreach,” Peterson said.
She said ticket sales have been up 15 percent this year with the addition of online ticketing. “People recognize us as leaders in the performing arts, and business and industry recognize we are part of the quality cultural life here,” she said.
UW-L’s theater and music events are primarily sponsored by student fees. Ticket sales account for two-thirds of the theater budget, said Laurie Kincman, UW-L’s theater production manager.
“Ticket sales are very much crucial to us, and we’re working to try to get more grants from foundations and corporations,” Kincman said. “We have fundraising events, but that money goes toward student scholarships.”
UW-L theater is a valuable part of the arts community because it often provides theater not seen elsewhere in the community, Kincman said.
“We don’t just do commercially viable productions, but try to offer a variety of production styles for our students and the community that don’t often make a lot of money.
“Finding a balance is one of our greatest assets,” she said.