Cough, cough: Philip Morris’s arts funding to be slashed

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The other shoe is about to drop on nearly two-dozen dance troupes, small theaters and local orchestras in Brooklyn now that Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, has announced deep cutbacks in its long-generous funding of art.

The Altria board is expected to approve a company restructuring at a Jan. 31 meeting, setting into motion the unkindest cuts, a spokewoman said.

In 2005, 21 arts groups in Brooklyn got money from Altria, with grants to the Brooklyn Academy of Music ($389,000), the Brooklyn Museum ($345,000), and Mark Morris Dance Group ($147,500) making the biggest noise.

But another 18 groups split close to $220,000 from the company — and each small grant meant a lot to a small arts group.

“Ours went towards general operating expenses, which are always so hard to come up with,” said Martha Wilson, the founding director of Fort Greene’s Franklin Furnace Archive, which got $2,500.

Like most arts groups directors, Wilson refused to complain about Altria’s expected drop in funding, citing the $210 million that the company has given to arts groups nationwide since 1958.

“They’ve been a leader,” Wilson said. “But what’s really sad is that their investors no longer see the long-term value of plowing money back into the arts and society,” she said.

And that is?

“Artists change the way we look at everything,” she said. “It’s not easy to convince people to fund you to do that, but it is vital work.”

Others said that the Altria cuts were part of a long-term trend in the corporate world away from arts funding.

“There is so little money out there that it’s made us all change the scale of our work,” said Annie-B Parson, artistic director of Big Dance Theater in Cobble Hill, which got $10,000 from Altria in 2005.

“Cuts that affect the smallest companies are especially harmful because we feed the artistic sensibilities of the larger groups. We are the R&D of art.”

Funding for 2007 has not been decided yet, said the Altria spokeswoman, Lisa Gonzalez, who added that all but two of Brooklyn’s recipients — Elevator Repair Service Theater and Radiohole — will be invited to reapply, though fewer overall grants will be awarded.

The Urban Bush Women, a Fort Greene dance troupe, has already received a $30,000 grant for this year, but isn’t wasting any time trying to line up cash for when the tobacco bucks go bye-bye.

“Altria has been very candid that the future doesn’t look good,” said Amy Cassello, the group’s managing director. “So we’ll scramble to find another source. That process never stops.”

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