October 7, 2010

Cinema Works to Replace Student Assembly Cuts

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After the Student Assembly slashed $13,000 from Cornell Cinema’s budget last year, the Cinema managed to stave off programming cuts with temporary measures such as donations, a temporary grant and rainy-day funding.

However, with these sources of revenue expected to dry up and state funding for the arts likely to decline, Cornell Cinema administrators think they will “really feel the impact of the S.A. cut” next year, according to Cornell Cinema Director Mary Fessenden, as the Cinema braces itself for a projected $20,000 deficit.

Because the S.A.’s by-line funding decisions remain fixed for two years after being voted on, the earliest the S.A. could increase funding to the Cornell Cinema would be for the 2012-13 school year, according to S.A. LGBTQ Representative and newly-appointed liaison to the Cornell Cinema Matt Danzer ’12.

Danzer’s liaison position was created after the “breakdown of communication” last year, Danzer said, due to a lack of correspondence between the S.A. and the Cornell Cinema during years in which the S.A. was not deliberating by-line funding.

Last fall, the S.A. proposed a $20,000 cut to the Cornell Cinema — a number later reduced to $13,000 after student protests. The $13,000 figure amounts to 14.3 percent of the Cinema’s funding from the S.A., although just 2.6 percent of the Cinema’s total budget.

Fessenden said the resulting “outcry from the community and Cornell alums … resulted in a number of modest donations” that will be used this year to cover the cuts, but will not be of use next year. Fessenden said the Cinema is trying to find funds to replace the donations, but she is not optimistic they can match last year’s donation totals.

A special grant from the Atkinson Forum in American Studies is being used to make up this year’s hole in the budget, as will the Cinema’s reserve account, according to Fessenden.

The New York State Council of the Arts has also cut funding for the Cinema, slicing 15 percent — or $4,000 — of its contribution each of the past two years. Fessenden said she expects this trend to continue, given that “things don’t appear to be improving for the New York State budget.”

Fessenden said she was reluctant to speculate what the effect of the budget shortfall would be on programming, but the cuts would “probably result in fewer titles shown over course of the year.”

Danzer said the S.A. is working with the Cinema to assess the potential impact of a ticket price increase for undergraduates as a way of increasing revenue. At the end of last school year, the S.A., which controls Cinema pricing, tabled the Cinema’s proposal to raise ticket prices from $4 to $4.50.

Danzer said that, although he could not speak on behalf of the whole assembly, he thought other S.A. members saw the proposal as “felt very rushed,” which is why it was tabled until the fall.

Like Danzer, S.A. Vice President of Finance Adam Nicoletti ’12 blamed last year’s firestorm on the “wrong impression that the S.A. and Cinema were not working with each other but against each other.”

“The S.A. is broadly considering what happened last year and is seeking to improve communications with all these groups to make sure the byline funding process goes smoothly,” Nicoletti said.

Nicolleti added that having the S.A. and Cinema work together on ticket hikes would be necessary “so we don’t blindly approve anything.”

The ticket price increase, which could take effect this year, would make tickets for undergraduates higher than graduate students.

Fessenden identified ticket revenue as the “big unknown” in the Cornell Cinema’s budget picture.

Last year, the Cornell Cinema sold 30,000 tickets, with an average attendance of 48 audience members per screening. The attendance was up from 45 viewers a show two years ago, Fessenden said.

Original Author: Jeff Stein