Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance

I apologize for the lack of posting. School has certainly taken over my time. That being said, I figured I would share one of my school assignment, please let me know you think! Also, if there are any questions about references, please feel free to contact me.

There have been several non-profit organizations across the United States that have had a major difficulty regaining their footing after the economic recession of 2008; arts organizations in particular have struggled with recouping funds that would stabilize their activities and increase chances of survival. Over the years since the recession, many arts organizations have slowly built themselves back to their previous solvency and the future, while not worry free, looks hopeful. In Sacramento, California, however, two major performing arts companies only continue to struggle for a solution of how to keep their heads above water.

In early 2013, a merger between the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra was proposed in an effort to “cope with a challenging financial environment.”  Despite a steady and reliable flow of tickets sales, both organizations had been on the verge of closing. The orchestra, unable to achieve its fundraising goals in the 2011-2012 season, “made an appeal to the community for emergency funds to deal with a $150,000 budget shortfall.”  It seemed that the only option for survival for these medium-sized organizations was to combine their forces. In July 2013 a new entity, known as the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, was formed as an umbrella organization that allowed the opera and orchestra to retain their own identities while creating a means to foster more funds for the hurting arts organizations.

Recent behaviors since the merger and creation of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance have proven that they are living, in a way, from “paycheck to paycheck.” While in most cases unity does strengthen parties, it seems as if these organizations are two drowning swimmers trying to save each other when they have no means of being able to save themselves; both organizations could see the immediate symptoms, but not the underlying problems that are responsible for their situation.

Unrelenting financial struggles continue to permeate the thoughts of the Alliance’s leadership. Programs and seasons have been chiseled away at in hopes of saving money, in vain. The opera was about to appeal for a forgivable loan from the city in January of 2014 in order to fund their production of “Il Trovatore,” but were saved by the Joyce and Jim Teel Family Foundation who donated $500,000; the majority of the funds were used on the production.  To make the situation seem even direr, the combined budget for the opera and orchestra prior to the merger totaled to more than $2 million, but as of August 2014 the alliance only has about $131,000 in the bank for the entire 2014-2015 season.

It seems that the struggles over the past several years have only been enhanced by the lack of consistent executive leadership, most recently noted by the surprise departure of Robert Tannenbaum, an experienced executive director who had worked with European arts organizations for years,  after only about a year of service to the SRPAA. It was hoped that Tannenbaum would have helped created the master plan to lift the alliance from the miry clay, but apparently he was not up to handling the many financial holes and bickering board members of the organizations  and has moved to southern California where he is hoping to find work that “allows him to work directly with the arts and requires less day-to-day management.”

Board management has not been a reliable as one could hope for either. When the organizations melded together into one alliance, so did the board of directors.   With the mixture of personalities and wide-ranging networks, it was hoped that this merger would be a great benefit to the financial needs of the Alliance. The desired fundraising forces of such a union did not come to fruition, especially when it came to the realization that many of one organization’s audience members had no desire in financially supporting the other art form. Donors, unsure of what giving to the Alliance would mean for their funds, withheld giving which frustrated the efforts of the board in reaching their required goals. Besides difficulties with individual giving, the board has also been experiencing major frustration in the lack of corporate philanthropy coming from the city of Sacramento, an issue enhanced by the increased competition by other nonprofits for the small amount of funds being made available.  An additional issue that has added to the board’s frustration with the city is the still unresolved debate of whether to renovate and update the Community Center Theater, which houses the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra, or to initiate a capital campaign to create an entirely new and improved venue. Instead of making a decision, the city has chosen to focus its financial support on other arts organizations that are not necessarily municipal entities.

Jane Hill, interim executive director of the Philharmonic during the 2012-2013 season prior to the merger, viewed the orchestra’s financial troubles as a reflection of the value with which the city held the organization. “I don’t know if there is enough sentiment in the region that says we’re the state capital and we ought to have a professional orchestra here,” said Hill.  Sacramento, while being a rather wealthy city has developed a reputation for being a somewhat difficult region for receiving philanthropy, especially since the recession. “When you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ” [Larry] Gardner [president of American Federation of Musicians Local 12] said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”

With these numerous factors at play, it is apparent that the board needs to seriously reevaluate its leadership, fundraising strategies at both the individual and corporate level, and the organizations’ community relations. In a desperate move, SRPAA board president Laurie Nelson announced in early August that, “The fall season, at this time, appears to be off the table.”  Nelson decided that the best action to take was to establish a hiatus from production in which board members would spend an indefinite amount of time performing research to discover methods and create a viable plan of action as well as reaching out to the community in order to create a strong foundation on which the Alliance can build for the future. They hope to produce a plan of action in three months time, including whether or not performances will resume in the spring 2015 season.

Although cutting programs and entire seasons from an arts organization’s schedule is normally frowned upon, the situation of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance seems to be a unique case in which taking a hiatus is truly the best option. By removing the distractions of day to day trials and focusing the leadership of the organization solely on the foundation and survival of the companies, the SRPAA will be able to give the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra a fighting chance. The success of the hiatus, according to Nelson, depends on two factors: “whether new board members can be brought on, and to what extent it is established that the community wants to support the orchestra and opera company.”

Other members of the organization also support the decision to take a hiatus from normal production activities. Michael Morgan, music director of the Philharmonic, told Music News, “I think stopping now to reassess is exactly the right thing to do, rather than leave ticket holders and musicians in the lurch by promising something and then not delivering. I just hope this garners enough attention, while the organization is still viable, for a course correction.”

The struggle to be valued by the city of Sacramento and then finding sources of funds to reestablish the Alliance and its sub-organizations will most likely be a long and arduous journey for all involved. However, several members seem optimistic for the future and look forward to a stable, municipally run arts center.

A turn in events already seems to be taking place since the announcement of the hiatus. An unexpected windfall, a donation of $387,462, was made to the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation, the funding and endowment managing body of the orchestra, in early September of 2014 by a former U.S. Forest Service worker.  The funds will not be shared with the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, but will hopefully be used to replenish the orchestra’s majorly depleted endowment, perhaps allowing them to return to the stage for the spring 2015 season.

After the years of struggling for survival, a step or two back from the playing field is the only logical decision to give the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance a fighting chance at recovery. There are donors, as mentioned above, who want to support an arts organization they know and love; it is the Alliance’s responsibility to find and befriend these individuals. In this matter of sink or swim, it is hopeful that the Alliance will finally learn to swim. If the Alliance’s hiatus proves beneficial and the board of directors is able to fully regain the community’s awareness, relationship, value, and support, than there is little doubt that the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra will be able to not only continue functioning but to thrive.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s