“What you hope to do is reverse the perception that you’ve been struggling at death’s door. You have to change to a perception that this is a happening place to be.” -Jesse Rosen, League of American Orchestras

Back in September I posted about the troubling financial status of many major orchestras around the country. Since then, there has been little improvement. In fact, Washington’s Spokane Symphony Orchestra’s musicians have gone on strike and the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra canceled all concerts through the end of 2012.

However, two organizations have taken an active stance to change perceptions around performing arts. In doing this, they’ve adopted new business practices, thinking like a corporation while preserving their non-profit values.


Dayton Performing Arts Alliance

This newly formed group is an excellent example of streamlining overhead costs to produce higher quality performances. Dayton Ohio was one home to the Dayton Philharmonic, the Dayton Opera, and the Dayton Ballet. Now all three organizations operate under one roof.

The merger has led to a necessary restructuring. While some positions have been consolidated, each group maintains a separate artistic director to ensure the preservation of the separate art forms. However, the three entities work together to plan rehearsals and performances so that none conflict. This not only encourages patrons to attend more shows, but it also gives more work to the musicians.

The orchestra members now perform in scheduled orchestra concerts and contribute to the ballet. Dayton orchestra conductor and artistic director Neal Gittleman says, “In a time when almost every other orchestra in the country is telling its musicians that ‘We have less work for you,’ we’re actually, this season, able to offer more work to our musicians than we did last year.” 


Colorado Symphony Orchestra

The Colorado Symphony faced similar budget deficits as other orchestras and considered the easy solution of simply lowering musician salaries. Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees Jerry Kern stepped in to renegotiate contracts to provide more work for musicians.

Jesse Rosen says, “They identified as revenue sources a number of communities surrounding Denver where the orchestra had never played before, because the venues were too small. Their contract at the time didn’t allow for them to break the orchestra up into smaller groups, so they changed that in the contract so they can play in smaller groups, and now they’ve opened up a new income stream by sending smaller groups into … as many as 25 different kind of satellite communities with smaller venues. And that always is a sign to funders that you merit their support, because your service to community is growing.” 

The contract change also allowed them to restructure evening concerts. The symphony can save on cost by reducing the number of pieces next season requiring large groups of musicians. Instead, they will present smaller chamber ensembles of various instrumentation that appeal to different audiences. Overall the number of concerts will not be reduced, benefiting both the musicians and the organization.

Principal tuba player Stephen Dombrowski looks forward to the changes, anticipating that they will make his playing life more interesting. “I actually look at it as more of an investment in the future, more of a response to what the community wants and needs right now.”


Posted on November 28, 2012
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