Passion Play in financial jam, asks for help
In the face of declining numbers and difficult times, "The Great Passion Play" in Eureka Springs faces the possibility of closing its doors to the public.
Citing the difficult economy in a press release dated Sept. 25, Executive Director Sam Ray said the venue, which has served 7.5 million people since 1967, is at risk of being unable to support itself past the end of the year.
According to a blog at www.arktimes.com, in tax year 2010, the foundation which operates the Passion Play "reported revenue of $1.7 million and expenses of $2.2 million, a loss of more than $500,000, compared with a loss of about $100,000 the year before. Assets were valued at $3.1 million and liabilities at $2 million in mortgages and notes. But virtually all the assets were in land and buildings, with only about $59,000 in cash and investments."
The site hosts not only the Great Passion Play but also the Christ of the Ozarks statue. Built in 1966, this local icon, which is 67 feet tall, was primarily the work of Emmet Sullivan, who also worked on nearby Dinosaur World. He had assisted in the work at Mount Rushmore under Gutzon Borglum as one of the sculptors
The work was done under the direction of the noted clergyman, political organizer and anti-Semite Gerald L.K. Smith, who became a leader of the "Share Our Wealth" movement during the Great Depression and later the Christian Nationalist Crusade.
Smith preached at the funeral of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long in 1935 and founded the American First Party in 1944, for which he was a presidential candidate in the election that year.
Unlike Long, who had been relatively tolerant on racial issues, Smith took the Share Our Wealth movement in the direction of white supremacy. As European tensions rose with the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany, Smith tried to form an alliance with the non-interventionist America First Committee, but its leaders spurned him because of his anti-Semitism and racism. He retired to Eureka Springs and began the Passion Play project in the mid-1960s.
According to a information released to the public yesterday, the Great Passion Play offers a unique and affordable opportunity for visitors to experience the events in the last week of Christ's life, performed by over 150 actors and live animals. However, the opportunity for people to witness the Scriptures come alive first-hand is under threat.
"Under the strain of rising costs and a tight budget, The Great Passion Play needs help," said Chairman of the Board Keith Butler. "The Great Passion Play is at risk of being unable to support its ministerial efforts to spread the 'Good News of Jesus Christ.'"
"The needs are great," said Sam Ray, Executive Director of The Great Passion Play, "but we serve a God who is greater. God works through people, and we are asking people for help."
Ray went on to say that while the Play would benefit from donations including functional used vehicles, up-to-date computers, LCD monitors, software, office supplies, lumber, gravel, and other material goods; its greatest need is funds to keep the attraction running.
According to Chairman Butler, "Cornerstone Bank of Eureka Springs has partnered with us for decades, providing much needed financial support to facilitate the continued operation of the Great Passion Play and its projects. Cornerstone Bank has never wavered in its support of the Play's leadership as the Play seeks out prospective investors, new ownership, or long-term sustainability through potential partnerships."
"The Great Passion Play has encouraged millions of people in their faith," said Butler, "but many more people need to be touched by 'The Greatest Story Ever Told.'In order to have a 2013 season, we need people to either 'Give or Come' now."
There are 24 performances remaining for the 2012 season on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. beginning Tuesday, September 25 through Saturday, October 27.
"The Great Passion Play is a significant part of Christian Culture," said Butler. "Now we are making a heartfelt plea to businesses, organizations, partners and the general public to help us keep this long-standing tradition running so it may continue to be a blessing for generations to come."
Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce Chairman and CEO Mike Bishop expressed regret at the news. "The Great Passion Play is an anchor for us in terms of family-oriented business," he said, "and we don't want to see it go away. From what I have been told, they are trying to raise capital to continue their efforts, and we wish them luck. We certainly don't want to lose them. They have been a mainstay of the local economy for 45 years."
According to Pastor Keith Butler, CEO of the Elna Smith Foundation established by Smith to manage the Passion Play, the site is for sale, in hopes a buyer with funds to re-invigorate the business will take the reins.
Those interested in donating to the Passion Play can do so by contacting them online at www.greatpassionplay.org/donations.asp. To donate by credit card, donors can call 800-882-7529 or mail checks or money orders to:
The Great Passion Play
P.O. Box 471
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Donations of goods are also accepted by calling the same toll-free number and making arrangements for delivery.
The Great Passion Play is a 501 C-3 nonprofit organization with an independent board of directors. All donations and contributions are tax deductible.