Supporters of Eureka Springs' Passion Play Work to Keep Hope Alive

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

“There is a big financial challenge to overcome the past shortfalls,” Christy said. “But I believe the Passion Play is worth saving. It’s a Christian icon. We can all benefit from it in our society and our culture. This is our one chance. If we succeed at this — I believe we will — we’ll be blessed for many generations in the future.”

Slide Started in 2007

Trouble began for the play in about 2007, Christy said. Economic troubles meant entertainment dollars were becoming increasingly tight for households and church groups.

With lower attendance leading to less money coming in, the marketing budget was among the first areas cut by the Elna M. Smith Foundation, which has funded the play since 1968.

As advertising was cut, fewer people were reminded that the Great Passion Play existed.

That led to a continued dip in customers and less money coming in to pay the play’s bills.

Mike Bishop, president and CEO of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, said a shutdown would have been devastating for the community. Had the Great Passion Play been shut down, it would have impacted not just the attraction and its employees, but the community and region, Bishop said.

Since opening in 1968 an estimated 7 million visitors have attended the play or been on the grounds to see the towering Christ of the Ozarks and other attractions on the grounds. Attendance in 2012 was 46,578, down significantly from its peak of nearly 300,000 in the 1990s.

Bishop estimated the economic impact over a six-month period would be close to $15 million.

“We’re talking room rentals, dining, gift shops and other attractions that people spend money on when they come into the area for the play,” Bishop said. “It was very critical we help them stay alive and keep it functioning.”

Butler is optimistic that the play, once described by the Los Angeles Times as a “touchstone of Christian Culture,” can continue. Aided by Bishop and the chamber, the Great Passion Play is partnering with local businesses to offer ticket deals.

Concerts are being planned for the amphitheater, including a March 11 fundraiser featuring Jason Crab, a Grammy-winning Christian artist. Butler said secular acts would also be considered.



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