Utah Symphony and Opera Approves Financial-Recovery Plan

Classic Arts News   Utah Symphony and Opera Approves Financial-Recovery Plan
The board of directors of the Utah Symphony and Opera approved a three-year financial-recovery plan yesterday, the Deseret Morning News reports.

The plan, set out yesterday by CEO Anne Ewers, involves cutting staff pay (including a decrease of $50,000 for Ewers over the next two years), lowering expenses, and requiring a $10,000 donation from each of the 40 board members.

The plan is the result of an independent report by Thomas Morris, former executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Morris was hired by the organization to look into its finances and make recommendations for financial recovery.

Musicians, frustrated about being kept in the dark about the organization's finances, were worried that parts of Morris's report would be withheld from the board, or that the report would not be presented at all. In the end the findings were released yesterday when the board voted to waive confidentiality, as the musicians had already done.

Morris reported a "structural" deficit, worse than had been previously reported, of $1.7 million in 2003 and of $3.3 million in 2004, along with a projected structural deficit of $3.2 million in 2005. He called the finances "perilous," despite the 2002 merger of the two companies, which was intended to create business efficiencies.

Morris also found that ticket sales to orchestra concerts had decreased by 20 percent since 2001-02, and cited problems related to the merger as the reason. One of the merger's results, he said, was an overall dilution of each company's brand, which created a "lack of confidence" that caused both individual and foundation donations to drop off.

In addition, he found, the organization made the mistake of expanding during its financial crisis, increasing its budget by 14 percent from 2003 to 2004, and giving musicians a 50-percent raise, as specified in 1999 contract.

The Deer Valley Music Festival, which had its first season last year, was found to be a huge drain on the organization, consuming, according to the Salt Lake Tribune up to 25 percent of staff resources, but being funded only by one-time gifts.

According to Morris, however, undoing the merger would not be wise; in his report, he outlined survival strategies both financial and structural.

US&O chair Frank Joklik told the board told it was necessary to approve the financial plan in order to keep donors confident.

Musicians, however, say the board only approved financial changes, not the structural ones—which include having a task force outside the organization monitor the implementation of the recovery plan, forcing the Deer Valley Music Festival to sustain itself financially, and reducing Ewers's responsibilities. The musicians' representatives who sit on the board of directors abstained from voting on the proposal.

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