It’s been a tough five years for the arts community across the nation.
Arts nonprofits rely on private donations to keepticket prices affordable and make arts education programs available to children. With the economic downturn, not surprisingly, individual and corporate donations have declined.
Even where attendance has remained steady, the drop in donations has brought many arts organizations to the edge of survival.
The latest is the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 1998, it has put on 92 concerts, including eight world or national premieres, and has brought music to thousands of kids in our region.
Unless it raises $300,000 by May 15, the philharmonic faces taking a one-year hiatus with no programming in the 2012-13 season, offering a severely truncated 2012-13 season – or even closing its doors. As of Wednesday, it had raised $96,575 from 104 donors – 22 of them new – with contributions ranging from $10 to $10,000.
This arts organization, like so many others in our region, is worth preserving. If they can just stabilize in the coming weeks and months, the region needs to craft whole new approaches. A cry of alarm from year to year is no way to support the arts.
Promising avenues do exist.
One is merger. While it is common in Europe to combine opera, symphony and ballet companies, such cooperation in the United States is unusual. In fact, the mid-sized community of Dayton,Ohio, is the first. In February, the boards of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Operaand Dayton Ballet merged their budgets and management under one executive director and one board of directors. They continue to have three artistic directors. It took 16 months to pull this together.
Sacramento should explore a similar merger.
The Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera had a productive meeting in January and the Irvine Foundation has expressed interest in helping with a merger. That, of course, won’t help with immediate funding, but could help with long-term viability.
Another is to create a united arts fund. Again, Dayton provides an example of what is possible. The Greater Dayton region has one organization, Culture Works, that oversees a regionwide united arts fundraising campaign, so donors can make one consolidated gift to the arts to support multiple arts organizations. That avoids the fragmentation and competition of multiple fundraising drives.
The Greater Sacramento region should explore something similar.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s “For Art’s Sake” initiative is planning to launch an “Art Day of Giving,” a 24-hour matching donation blitz on Saturday, Oct. 20, modeled on what Pittsburgh has done. Donors will be able to choose which organizations to give to. That’s not a united arts fund, but a step in the right direction.
Greater Sacramento has some catching up to do – starting with saving the philharmonic.