[Masthead] Fair ~ 50°F  
High: 56°F ~ Low: 31°F
Friday, Mar. 6, 2015

Passion Play in financial jam, asks for help

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 ~ Updated 5:06 PM

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

Attention: Accounting

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.

Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. If you feel that a comment is offensive, please Login or Create an account first, and then you will be able to flag a comment as objectionable. Please also note that those who post comments on lovelycitizen.com may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.

I say it's time to let this relic die. Let them bankrupt out and let someone with a 21st century vision of tourism have a crack at developing an attraction for all the people, not just bible-thumpin' Christians.

-- Posted by odetta on Thu, Sep 27, 2012, at 8:53 AM



-- Posted by animal angel on Thu, Sep 27, 2012, at 11:08 AM

It is a shame that the Passion Play is in such deep financial trouble, but for far too long, the endeavor has been mismanaged. Should they go bankrupt? Yes, I think, but not for the reason Odetta states. Odetta, and anyone can believe what she wants, and you know what? Nobody will kill you for your lack of belief as the Muslims to the so called "infidels". By the way, I am one of those infidels. Allah is no more God than I am the man in the moon.

The Play is an important part of the history of Eureka Springs. If bankruptcy is the end of the current leadership team, then so be it. Perhaps some other group can come in and "clean house", and manage it better than it has been in recent years.

God Bless America, and God Bless Eureka Springs.

-- Posted by rockpilefarmer on Thu, Sep 27, 2012, at 12:17 PM


Thank you for the post, it's an excellent example of what's gone wrong with Eureka Springs. Originally founded around the springs and their healing properties. The spirit of the Lord was abundant and powerful as an influence on the growing town. Attractions like the Bible Museum, Onyx Cave, Pivot Rock, Miles Mountain, Quigley's Castle and yes the Great Passion Play attracted families to visit this wonderful little town. Somehow the dream was lost, the family's are now visiting other more family friendly places like Branson. Places that appreciate their business and encourage them to come to a safe and comfortable atmosphere. So as the shops die out, the locals loose their jobs and the town dies, you celebrate the end of the Great Passion Play and the role it played in putting Eureka Springs on the tourist maps. I was here in the sixties and felt the love, were you? Such a tragic loss.

-- Posted by RebelRooster on Thu, Sep 27, 2012, at 6:16 PM

I totally agree with rockpilefarmer. This relic would better be made into a great playground for the children and teen agers of Eureka Springs.

The giant Jesus is supposedly one block white marble. What a joke! It is stolen railroad ties from the railway system in ES and stucco, painted white.

What a farce, a lie, and a sham.

-- Posted by Prospector on Thu, Sep 27, 2012, at 6:21 PM

Gerald L. K. Smith....what a shining example of Christian teaching...racist, anti-Semite, and hater of everyone and every thing that did not fit exactly into his mold. It is totally beyond me how many Christians act as apologists and deniers of the dark streak that threads through the Christian religion's 2000 year history. It's not all Mother Teresa by a darn sight. After learning of the founder Mr. Smith and his bigotry and un-Christ like behavior, I see nothing that a few dozen boxes of TNT couldn't fix. Eureka Springs was doing just fine before all this "family-friendly" talk started. Market aggressively to the people that enjoy the things and atmosphere that is/are uniquely Eureka Springs, and I think the profits will equal or exceed the "family" crowd.

-- Posted by firediva4411 on Fri, Sep 28, 2012, at 9:51 PM

Animal Angel, I'm familiar with most Pagan and occult activities in Eureka Springs. I can assure you that had I ever witnessed animal sacrifice, I would have used whatever force was necessary to stop it, and likely would have wound up in jail as a consequence. I love animals and will stop at nothing to protect them.

The problem with most evangelical Christians is that they are, well, evanglical. Your posting is an example. You cannot stand the thought that people might not accept your views or advice. You repeat it over and over. You threaten all kinds of horrible punishments if they won't listen.If that doesn't work, you try to use the power of the government to enforce your beliefs on the rest of us.

One time, Jesus' disciples asked Him what they should do if they enter a town and no one will listen to them. He replied something to the effect of "Shake the dust off your shoes" in other words leave. That's my advice to you: If you don't like the people and things that are in Eureka Springs, or if you are afraid that God is going to fire some kind of a divine cruise missle from up in Missouri someday, then simply shake the dust off your shoes and leave/stay away.

-- Posted by firediva4411 on Fri, Sep 28, 2012, at 10:35 PM

Prospector, you are out of touch with reality. Who told you that the statue of Jesus is a hunk of rock? They lied. It is cast in concrete. Nobody with any credibility has ever claimed it was a hunk of marble. And you surely missed my point about bankruptcy. I do believe that bankruptcy is the best move. The GPP has never had good leadership. Perhaps a new group of people can take over and continue telling the best story ever; God's plan of redemption for all through Jesus Christ.

-- Posted by rockpilefarmer on Sat, Sep 29, 2012, at 8:39 AM

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration. If you already have an account on this site, enter your username and password below. Otherwise, click here to register.


Password:  (Forgot your password?)

Your comments:
Please be respectful of others and try to stay on topic.