Utah Symphony and Opera May Face Fiscal Crisis

Classic Arts News   Utah Symphony and Opera May Face Fiscal Crisis
The Utah Symphony and Opera may be close to a financial crisis, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

The organization has been running a deficit since the orchestra and opera company merged in 2002, a measure meant to create business efficiencies. Instead, ticket sales have dropped, as have donations.

Three months ago, the US&O asked Thomas W. Morris, former executive director of the Cleveland Symphony and Boston Symphony Orchestra, to look at the financial situation and make recommendations regarding marketing, management, and financial practices.

Morris's recommendations were released to some of the organization's administrators and the musicians' representatives, but whether or not it will be released to the board of trustees and the executive committee is still unknown. The Tribune reports that the musicians fear that the worst parts of Morris's findings will be suppressed when the board sees the report later today; the Deseret Morning News says that the administration has no plans to share the report at all.

In either case, the musicians are alarmed. Christine Osborne, bassoonist and musicians' representative, told the Tribune, "We are in a crisis. We fear for the survival of the orchestra."

Anne Ewers, the organization's CEO, responded, "The word 'crisis' is too inflammatory. But no question, we have a serious challenge, and we are addressing it."

The musicians are willing to release the report, despite any possible bad news, in order that the recommendations be acted on. They have waived the confidentiality agreement that keeps either musicians or management from releasing the study without each other's permission.

Ewers, however, would not comment on whether or not the board will act on Morris's recommendations. She did say that she was working on a financial plan that included "large cuts across the board." "There will be a personal contribution requirement from the board," she said, "and the cuts involve my own personal salary."

The musicians' concerns include the decision to create the Deer Valley Music Festival, which had its first season last summer. "Last summer we played more concerts than in the past," Osborne said, "and took in less revenue. When you are seeing massive deficits, why expand into something new?"

They are also concerned about Ewers's fundraising technique, which emphasizes large, one-time donations for special projects. Fundraising figures based on US&O audits and provided by the musicians' union to the Tribune show a steady drop in revenue, although Ewers's own figures paint a less dire picture.

The crisis is taking shape as the orchestra prepares for a European tour in April: an expensive venture that, according to Ewers, will be funded by an anonymous donation.

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