The historic Lincoln Theatre is on the verge of closing, unless it is offered a $500,000 bailout by the D.C. Council.
The theater has been on the brink of closing before. Officials were set to announce it was closing this summer, but the city provided $250,000 in last-minute funding. It was the second close call in recent years; Lincoln nearly closed in 2007, but was given a $200,000 grant by the D.C. government to keep the doors open. The theater’s annual budget is about $1.2 million.
In a news conference in front of the theater on Thursday, Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and the theater’s board of directors appealed to the city for emergency funds. Without $500,000 by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which begins on Monday, the theater will be forced to close by year’s end.
In part, the Lincoln is one of many victims of a suffering arts economy. Opportunities for funding are shrinking or gone entirely: rentals of the theatre are down, and a number of grants the Lincoln once applied for are now invitation-only. The Meyers Foundation, previously a reliable resource for grant money for the Lincoln, stopped supplying funds to the theater two years ago. According to Lincoln’s executive director, Eilene Lifsey, the theatre applied for the D.C. Arts Commission grants at the end of August. The $20,000 they could receive for the 2012 Fiscal Year would be in the form arts education grant, not for general operations. None of it would be enough to compensate for the lack of money from the district.
Richard Lee, a member of the Lincoln’s Board of Directors and past President of the U Street Foundation, implored members of the community to contribute donations to the theatre, as did Cynthia Robbins, also a board member, who cited D.C.’s $89 million in unanticipated tax revenues as a potential source of funding for Lincoln.
Robbins would not confirm the status of currently scheduled shows at Lincoln. ”I remain hopeful that the mayor will set the time for us to meet,” she said.
The city-owned Lincoln Theatre is a historic landmark in D.C. for its role as the cultural heart of “Black Broadway,” a phrase coined by singer Pearl Bailey. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong were among the musicians who have played the Lincoln. The theater declined after the 1968 race riots, and closed for renovations in 1983. It reopened in 1994. Recently, it has hosted comedy shows and plays.