Bill Bullock, Executive Director, River Center
No, you don’t have to go to Atlanta or New York to get first-rate live entertainment anymore. With the River Center, the Springer, the Schwob School of Music and Drama Departments at Columbus State University in full swing, you can get it right here and right now. And a lot of people are doing just that. Those who can afford it. And a lot can’t because Columbus is a low-pay, high- unemployment and poverty-rate town.
Bill Bullock, Executive director of the River Center told Columbus Rotarians that during its just-completed season , the River Center attracted 99,000 patrons. “Over, 5,000 performers, technicians, ushers, and other participants attended the needs of those patrons. About 3 million dollars was spent in the process.”
Since its opening in 2002, almost a million patrons were entertained, with 50 thousand participants at a cost of over 37 million dollars.
People who go to plays and concerts and other cultural events also spend money eating out, staying in hotels and doing other things. Bullock says a survey of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley taken in 2009 shows that annually “local arts and culture groups generate 51 million dollars of revenue and almost 5 million dollars in taxes; spend 21 million dollars directly and leverage another 30 million dollars of expenditures in local businesses; and employ 1500 workers.”
Just look at some of the nationally successful performers and plays and musicals that have graced the stages of the River Center over the past 9 years:
Bill Cosby, Anne Murray, Loretta Lyn, Frankie Valli, Wynton Marsalis, Mannheim Steamroller, BB King, Travis Trit, Lilly Tomlin, The Smothers Brothers, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, The Russian National Ballet, The Music Man, Camelot, Cats, 42nd Street, Annie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Miss Saigon, Chicago, Stomp, David Copperfield, and a live NPR broadcast of A Prarie Home Companion, to mention a few.
Then, of course, there are those great local performances by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Schwob School of Music concerts featuring the world-class Schwob School of Music Philharmonic Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and other groups and individual performers including faculty who have performed with some of the world’s most prestigious music groups. And the plays and musicals at the Springer compare favorably with the best regional theaters in the country.
At one time Columbus may have been a sleepy Southern cotton mill and Army town with little to offer in the way of first-class live entertainment, but it is certainly not that any more. It’s definitely still an Army town, one that’s proud of it, but, with one exception, is no longer a cotton mill town. Virtually all of those jobs were shipped overseas where pay is even lower than in Columbus.
The city is on the Interstate now – kept off for decades by the politically powerful locals afraid of higher wages and retail competition in Atlanta – and it has a growing and respected public University, and just about all of the first-rate live entertainment that most of us can afford. Admittedly, there is a problem in the number of people who can afford it, because the city is notorious for low pay; poverty is a critical problem, and unemployment is higher than the national average, but just below the state average.
Bottom line, yes we do have need for improvement when it comes to the city’s declining middle class and the poor, but when it comes to entertainment, we can compete with just about any metropolitan area.