[Dixielandjazz] Music Performances in Financial Trouble - Sound Familiar?

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 28 14:08:28 PDT 2004

Sound familiar? They have troubled waters too. Aging Audience, Lack of
Inventive Programming, Couch Potatoes, etc. Yet they blame the wrong
factors. Long Island has an 8 million population from which to draw and
a bunch of potential moneyed contributors. Yet they can't get it done.

Steve Barbone

April 28, 2004 - NY Times

Regional Orchestra Flounders in Troubled Financial Waters


     Long Island seems to possess an artistic Bermuda triangle into
which entire theater troupes, dance companies and chamber groups have
vanished. The Long Island Philharmonic, faced with the area's diffuse
geography and with an aging, shrinking audience base — a problem that
has plagued regional orchestras across the country — is trying to avoid
a similar fate.

But the orchestra, founded in 1979 by the pop singer Harry Chapin and
Long Island business leaders with dreams of establishing a world-class
orchestra, is commemorating its 25th anniversary amid canceled programs,
missed payrolls and a $250,000 deficit. It recently canceled the final
two concerts of the 2003-4 season, its second cancellation this year.

"This is the third very serious financial crisis we have suffered in 25
years," said John J. Russell, president of the Philharmonic's board. "In
a relative scope the prior two were as serious, and we came through
those. But today, with many Long Island companies merging, they are
becoming less philanthropic. Everyone is reaching for the same pot."

Since the economic downturn after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, nearly
half of corporate donations to the orchestra and two-thirds of its state
financing have disappeared. Board members and local arts executives say
that fund-raising on Long Island has never been easy, with the potential
audience spread out and a sense that the Philharmonic, which performs in
both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, is not part of any one community. It
must also compete for money with New York City's cultural institutions.

Brian McCaffrey, a retired KeySpan executive and the orchestra's interim
executive director, said its annual budget of $2.1 million required
$500,000 in government grants and personal and business donations.

Nearly every corporate sponsor has significantly reduced its level of
support. Corporate sponsorship usually accounts for $265,000 of the
annual budget, but guarantees for the fiscal year ending on June 1
amount to only $145,000. New York State provided $170,000 in the last
fiscal year but only $41,000 so far this year.

The recently canceled programs, scheduled for April 3 and 4, were to
feature Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," which calls for a large orchestra
and chorus, and would have cost $150,000 to produce. The orchestra cited
slow ticket sales as the reason for the cancellation. A Jan. 29 pops
concert featuring Ben E. King was canceled, too, and the orchestra was
late meeting its payroll in February; it was also late in November and
for a New Year's Eve gala.

The Philharmonic is not unfamiliar with hard times. In the early 1980's
and early 90's it had brushes with bankruptcy and a series of management
shake-ups. Between 1995 and 2002 Karen L. Barnes, the executive
director, presided over a period of stability; Mr. McCaffrey's
predecessor, Christopher von Zwehl, lasted only seven months.

Many of the musicians have complained that programming is not as
inventive as it was, and that soloists are not as prestigious. During
the 1980's and 90's, the Philharmonic regularly offered premieres of new
works and engaged international-caliber soloists under conductors like
Christopher Keene, its founding music director, and Marin Alsop, music
director from 1990 to 1996. This season, under David Wiley, it featured
only one major soloist, the cellist Lynn Harrell, who played in the
opening concerts. The rest of the programs drew on local musicians and
orchestra members as soloists.

Unlike many regional orchestras whose identities are attached to single
cities or concert halls, the Philharmonic operates as a tenant at
multiple sites. It performed at several high schools across Long Island
in its early years, and moved to the 2,200-seat theater at Tilles Center
for the Performing Arts on the C. W. Post campus in Brookville in 1985.
Seven years later a second hall, the 1,000-seat Staller Center for the
Arts at the State University of Stony Brook, was added, bringing the
orchestra closer to East End residents.

"Long Island is a tough geography to work with," said Elliott Sroka,
executive director of the Tilles Center. "The Long Island Philharmonic
has always tried to maintain a foot in both Suffolk and Nassau Counties,
and it has experimented with concerts in other locations in an attempt
to further work with the geography. But it's just such a sprawling place
and it does not have a geographic center."

In November the Long Island Association, a business group representing
Nassau and Suffolk Counties, formed a committee comprising leading arts
institutions to explore ways to raise their profiles and increase
collaboration. Among the 16 members are the Tilles and Staller centers,
the Nassau County and Heckscher museums of art, and the Long Island

"One of the points of the group is to look at how we can strengthen the
cultural health of this area," Mr. Sroka said. "This area is very arts
oriented but the same people you're trying to appeal to support locally
produced art in Nassau County are also regular consumers in New York

Mr. Russell, of the orchestra's board, pointed out that potential donors
often prefer to support New York City cultural institutions. "It's what
we call the bricks and mortar issue," he said. "They get a bronze plaque
on a building in New York."

Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center, agreed that New York City
would always exert a powerful influence over Long Island.

"People who have moved out here have made a conscious decision," he
said. "They'll go to New York City to take in an orchestra or a Broadway
show. We're an audience known for renting movies. My competition isn't
Tilles Center or Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, it's
Blockbuster Video and the couch."

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list