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April 22, 2019 Newsmakers

TheaterWorks’ McInerney discusses funding, ongoing renovations

Freddie McInerney

Small budgets and limited resources are challenges small arts nonprofits like TheaterWorks will always contend with, but energy and enthusiasm have carried them through so far, said Freddie McInerney.

McInerney has handled marketing for the downtown Hartford arts venue for the past decade. TheaterWorks is currently operating out of the Wadsworth Atheneum, as its Pearl Street home of three decades undergoes a $5.7 million renovation.

While the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 decreased some tax incentives for nonprofit donations, McInerney said TheaterWorks has a donor base committed to its mission of bringing theater to downtown Hartford. However, she's always looking to expand that base.

TheaterWorks has 18 employees and a $2.4 million budget, she said.

“We've got a terrific community of loyal patrons, but we need to broaden that community,” McInerney said.

What is the best way to pitch TheaterWorks to possible donors?

TheaterWorks is a special organization. There is something unquantifiable about the space and the experience that leaves folks feeling vested in us as an organization. That translates to our donors, as well. Patrons love the intimacy of our space. They're also our best marketers. They tell me, 'There's no bad seat in the house.' And it's true.

How does Hartford's theater scene differ from those in similar-sized, nearby cities?

It's amazing how strong the arts ecosystem is throughout the Northeast. Small cities interestingly are at an advantage in terms of relative affordability, appreciative but sophisticated audiences, and close proximity to cultural epicenters like New York and Boston.

Hartford audiences have very high expectations and rightly so. The city is home to Tony-award-winning Hartford Stage — that helps set the bar and we're the better for it.

Can you tell us about the demand for live theater in the Hartford area?

Hartford loves theater. And there is great theater in Hartford. TheaterWorks boasts 5,000 subscribers with approximately 40,000 theatergoers, annually. To put that in perspective, most theaters our size lay claim to less than 2,000 subscribers. We are appreciative of our patrons commitment to us. It's a pact, a trust that we don't take for granted.

What impact will the renovations have?

Our capacity will not change. We'll still be a 190-seat theater. But the experience will change for the better. Our building, the old gas company, is 90-plus years old so the renovations are necessary.

After 30 years in downtown Hartford, the theater will be in a position to build into the future in really exciting and engaging ways artistically and programatically.

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