Performing arts holding on despite budget cuts

By Yasmeen Salama / Inscape Editor

By Yasmeen Salama / Inscape Editor

Ever since the economic crisis began back in 2007, schools of all sorts, from elementary to high school to major colleges and universities have been cut to pieces in an attempt to compensate for the lack of funding.

Every educational department has been hit, cut, slashed, shuffled around, and otherwise hacked at just to meet the budget.

But one of the programs that got hit the hardest is the Performing Arts programs, and Riverside City College is no exception.

Some schools have done away with drama, band, orchestra, and classes that teach these subjects without the performance side. Other schools have been holding on to the programs with their teeth.

Now, granted, it is arguable that among all the classes offered at schools perhaps the fine arts classes are at the bottom of the priority list.

After all, art is something that throughout the ages has only really thrived in a thriving society, though true artists have found ways to pursue their passions regardless of their circumstances.

Take third-world countries for example. How many performers come out of those nations?

They are often too concerned with putting food on the table to worry about whether they can accurately portray emotion for the next Broadway hit.

But here in the United States every other person has at the very least taken piano lessons at some point in their lives.  

So this is the first time in a long time that the U.S. has seen the arts impacted to such a degree, where now children can’t afford to take piano lessons, or their school doesn’t offer band or drama classes anymore.

At RCC, the board has done its best to preserve as many programs as possible, but though many of the programs are still available to students, they have significantly reduced what the programs offer.

Take the music department for instance.

Charlie Richard, a professor of Music at RCC, said that all the departments travel money was cut about two years ago.

“We had to cut a lot of classes and lost all our part-time faculty,” he said.

The loss of travel money, extra classes and faculty has essentially translated into a cut in opportunities for RCC’s aspiring musicians to grow.

“We lost that extra educational step to challenge musicians,” Richard said.

RCC’s orchestra, conducted by associate professor of music Kevin A. Mayse, said that many of the out-of-state competitions and performances that the orchestra used to attend are no longer feasible with the current budget.

But overall, Mayse said that the music program has held up as well as it can.

The dance department is another story.

Where other performing arts departments cut part-time faculty, dance, a relatively recent addition to the performing arts genre, and previously considered a physical education class, cut its full-time faculty.

Rita Chenoweth, an associate professor of dance, said that her department has been cut down to a skeleton.

In addition to class cuts and reduced staff, Chenoweth said the department had to cut productions down from “a high of four to a low of two” and even that amount is starting to seem threatened.

The most important part of the performing arts departments is the actual performances, which not only gives the students the chance to demonstrate what they’ve been learning, but also provides the experience of being in front of an audience and dressing in full costume.

“We can’t call it a performing arts department if you don’t have any more performances,” Chenoweth said.

The performances themselves have also seen a significant setback. Associate professor of dance, Mark Haines, said that the budget deficit “effects the students more than it effects (faculty).”

The department no longer has the funds to provide costumes, live music or even sufficient practice time for his students.

“The students are having to fill in the gaps,” he said. “It’s difficult to tell students that not only do you have to make your own costumes, and dance without live musicians, but now you have to cut rehearsal time in half.”

It all brings up the question “what is the future of performing arts?” At this rate, students will eventually see a complete absence of arts in the schools.

But the thing about art is that it cannot be suppressed.

“Often times, you have to create something with little or no funding,” Chenoweth said, and the dance department is doing just that.

If the deaf composer Beethoven taught musicians anything, it’s that music cannot be suppressed either.

“When you’re dealing with music, someone once told me you can teach music in a tent as well as a grand hall,” Mayse said. “It won’t stop people who want to play.”

Despite three consecutive years of cuts and the loss of the very steps that make musicians great, Richard said it “hasn’t affected (the students) performance yet.”

Hopefully, it never will.