On Heels of Report About Pending Insolvency, Dallas Symphony Announces New "Action Plan"

Categories: Arts, Music
JaapandDSO.jpg
I was about to write up a little something about the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's "new business plan," announced via press release moments ago, when I espied this report from KERA's Jerome Weeks, which says that the DSO will tap out its line of credit by February at the latest and is nearing insolvency. That, writes Weeks, is based on something Dallas Symphony Board Chairman Blaine Nelson told a group of donors last night. Nelson told Weeks later, during a follow-up interview:
"We have a line of credit for $11 million, and that's guaranteed by our foundation assets. However, our foundation has only given us permission to draw on that line of credit up to $8 million and it's estimated that we will be at or exceed that $8 million by sometime either in January or February."
I made a few calls and was told that Nelson's comments last night were merely intended to get the attention of folks holding thick wallets and heavy purses. "It's business as usual," I was told. Except, no. Not quite.

What you'll see on the other side is the DSO's release, a rather upbeat doc touting an "action plan designed to sustain a secure, vibrant and exciting future for the Dallas Symphony." Which will entail cutting classical performances (from 21 weeks' worth to 16) and further reducing operating expenses. Today's announcement comes just two months after the DSO announced that it had cut more than $1 million from its 2011-'12 budget by eliminating staff positions and instituting a wage freeze. Says Nelson in today's announcement, the board's new "action plan will create a sustainable future that extends the superb quality DSO has achieved, increases community support and lays a stronger foundation for fundraising efforts."

I was also told today that the previously announced Great Orchestra Campaign, intended to raise $50 million to offset the DSO's deficit, has been put on hold while the board interviews potential permanent president candidates.
DALLAS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES NEW BUSINESS PLAN

Plan Maintains Artistic Excellence while Reducing Costs, Increasing Revenue and Community Appearances

Dallas, TX (Nov. 9, 2011) - The Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) today announced a new business model and action plan designed to sustain a secure, vibrant and exciting future for the Dallas Symphony.

The new model provides an approach that can sustain the new level of artistic excellence has achieved under Maestro Jaap van Zweden, by adjusting DSO operations to the realities of the 21st century. The plan will reduce operating expenses in a way that protects artistic quality, boosts revenues and increases the Orchestra's outreach into the community.

Maestro van Zweden was recently recognized as America's best conductor by Musical America, which cited the increased performance artistry achieved by DSO under his direction.

"The DSO Executive Board enthusiastically approved a new plan, which we are already putting in place," said Blaine L. Nelson, Chairman. "This action plan will create a sustainable future that extends the superb quality DSO has achieved, increases community support and lays a stronger foundation for fundraising efforts."

The plan involves devising a new business model better attuned to the 21st century arts environment. Key elements include:

· Adjusting the number of performances starting next season, to better balance the number of Meyerson concerts with community demand - 62 Classical and 24 Pops performances;

· Providing the same number of concerts conducted by Maestro van Zweden and Marvin Hamlisch as originally planned;

· Extending DSO's reach into the community with more community concerts, such as ones planned for the Allen ISD Performing Arts Center, scheduled for next year;

· Providing more community organizations with opportunities to sponsor special events like one Fluor Corp. has arranged for its stakeholders next year;

· Increasing DSO's highly popular music education programs for children and adults; and

· Increasing DSO's collaboration with other arts organizations so more can enjoy DSO's superb music.

"Like many arts organizations, we have been affected by the financial wave that has hit arts funding across the U.S.," said Nelson. "Orchestras throughout the country are realizing that a new business model is required for the 21st century, and recent deficits indicate we are no exception."

"We've been listening to what the community is telling us, so our new plan better aligns our performance schedules with attendance patterns," said David Hyslop, Interim President and CEO. "Starting next season, after making schedule adjustments, we will be able to accommodate all of our patrons who attend the Meyerson, reducing expenses while making the orchestra available for more concerts and special events out in the community."

"Given the fiscal restraints challenging orchestras across the country, a new approach is needed. Our new business plan addresses that," Nelson said.

"We've reduced staff, cut other expenses, implemented wage freezes and secured a practical contract with our musicians, and now we're doing more with a new business model that can serve as a catalyst for a sustainable future," Nelson said.

"Inspired by this plan, many of our Board and Executive Committee members are already substantially increasing their giving to the Symphony. But to truly succeed, we need support from our donors, subscribers and the community at large," Nelson said.

With this new plan for sustainability in place, we're also asking our supporters to make attending concerts and giving to the Symphony a top priority," Nelson said. "Our commitment to make the Dallas Symphony a leading orchestra and ambassador for our city is stronger than ever."
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20 comments
Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

BOB SAYSIt seems like the DSO has gotten what it has paid for:  a world-recognized excellent orchestra conductor and an orchestra that is approaching that same level of recognition. OCT SAYSApparently that isn't putting money in the bank .BOB SAYSWhatever they pay that man, he is worth every penny.OCT SAYSAs for paying the guy  The Pennies he is worth being Paid have to be there. Don't they ?Tens of thousands of folks fill clubs and small and large concert venues featuring many different music styles every Friday Saturday and some Sundays . I have been to sold out shows on a Tuesday school night at what ever they call the Fair Park Facility .And I will add the Music Hall.Those Tickets were about as expensive or even more than Symphony Tickets. Haven't checked the Symphony ticket prices lately.The fact People don't go to the Symphony is because they don't want to.

It is not the Musical Entertainment they seek.Such an Art Form needs to take its own back seat when it comes to money .Face up to paying  salaries that  market forces will allow .Which in this town isn't going to be much these days.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Also, explains by Bill Lively bailed last year.

My unsupported, baseless speculation is that after Lively did the math he then went to the Symphony Board and asked what was their plan to address the budget short fall. The Board's response was probably inadequate and Lively said "So long, been good to know you."

Math, like karma, is a bitch.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Hmmmm, KERA's report last night said that on average concert attendance  is only 50%.

Typical Dallas, build a mac-mansion to the arts (the Arts District) forget to pay for the furniture.

Really sad, after decades of tepid uninspired leadership and performances, the DSO gets a Music Director that seems to be a breath of fresh air with polished invigorating performances (the concert I attended last month was the best by the DSO I've seen in 20+ years) and it runs out of money.

1092LMA
1092LMA

Greed, selfishness and pride. That's what fuels the orchestra world. The DSO is looking for handouts since it looks like their board isn't ponying-up some dough. Perhaps the DSO should give back to the community a little more before they ask us, the "community", to step up. If you want us to help keep a millionaire conducting or a six-figured musician playing, you have to give us some perks besides great music. Think lower ticket prices, no handling fee per ticket, free parking in the garage.

Guest
Guest

No handling fee - You should complain to the city, not the Orchestra.  The Meyerson (A city owned and managed facility which the DSO rents) cherges the handling fee.

Free parking - You should complain to Craig Hall, not the DSO.  Craig Hall owns the parking garage.  THe only way the DSO could give you free parking is to pay for your parking themselves.  The parking is not theirs to give away.

Lower ticket prices - You can go see the DSO cheaply.  Tonight there are plenty of tickets for $19, $27, $30, $46, and $48.  That's comparable to or cheaper than many for-profit entertainment choices.  If you go online and visit the websites of the NY Phil, the Chicago Symphony, the LA Phil, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, etc., you will see what a bargain our orchestra actually is.

It is worth remembering that it is a NON-PROFIT.  Ticket sales cover only 40% of it's cost.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Do you think Jaap's million dollar paycheck has anything to do with this pending insolvency?

G_David
G_David

If he's making $1 million per year, he's underpaid.  They sound like a different orchestra under his baton.  He's one badass Dutchman.

RC
RC

You get what you pay for. The seat prices are competitive with other big city orchestras. The people that play are artists who do this for a living. If you start putting a nickel and dime approach to our major art institutions, it begins to show and then you have nothing but a discount version of art and music. I would encourage DSO to continue the 'Pops' approach to bring in new audiences.

Guest
Guest

Try living in LA and going to the LA Phil.  DSO's prices are great compared to that.  Also, it's very difficult to get a "bad" seat in the Meyerson.  Disney Hall for all its hype, really has a lot of horrible plases to sit, and those were the only seats I could afford.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I wondered the same thing.A salary like that is very DISD-ish, where the spending goes merrily along despite economic realities.

I love DSO performances and the facility is lovely, but the ticket prices are too high. And that's not bc I'm a teacher; my spouse is in the doctor/lawyer/engineer circle and we still feel the prices are excessive.

I agree that their arrogance has caught up with them.  

Bob
Bob

It seems like the DSO has gotten what it has paid for:  a world-recognized excellent orchestra conductor and an orchestra that is approaching that same level of recognition.  Whatever they pay that man, he is worth every penny.

DISD, on the other hand, has NEVER gotten full value from its administrative personnel--its teachers are underpaid (at least the good ones, of which there are many), and its administrators get worse the higher you go up the food chain.  The overriding rule seems to be to overpay the superintendent on the way in, overpay while in office, and overpay on the way out.  At least they are consistent.

halldecker
halldecker

Good.

We sent in money with our subscription asking for midrange seats.    We got back a partial refund,  and tickets 2 rows from the very top.

When I asked why,  I was told that the only way to get the seats I wanted,  midways,  was to donate an additional $2,000.

I suppose they thought I'd pack a sack lunch and throw banana peels if they let me down to the dress circle.

Same thing next year,  you'll definitely not get what you want till you pay an extra $2,000.

DSO's arrogance has finally caught up with them. 

The City gave them a nice playhouse,   my housekeeper's tax payments are subsidizing blue-hairs from the Park Cities.   They've 'named' every door knob down there,  including the Birch John Society Men's Room on the 3rd Floor

I've never understood why taxpayers should subsidize DSO and not music other taxpayers enjoy,  ala Deep Ellum.   One man's ceiling is another man's floor.

halldecker
halldecker

Important to realize,  at a time when Dallas is laying off public safety employees,  it continues to pour tax dollars down the rat hole of this tiny group of elitists.   It's given them an incredible (and incredibly expensive to build and operate) facility,  at significant cost to taxpayers.  Again, are the majority of taxpayers well-served by DSO programming.   Of course not.

For something that didn't happen,  I sure have a lot of very specifics about it,  don't I.   Was told that I was given the "best seats available."   I asked for details of how every seat between the stage and the ceiling was sold before they got to me.  Obviously, they weren't.   First time it happened and I screamed  DSO suddenly found two seats on the 4th row for me.

89 musicians making close to $100k per,  conductor $1mil.  Does a $100k fiddle player sound twice as good as a $50k fiddle player.

Bob Wills could have out-played any of 'em.

This was the company line last year about this time:

http://www.dmagazine.com/Home/...

Guest
Guest

Well, when the education required to perform at that level costs an astronomical amount, is not offered in public school, and has to begin at four, then yes, $90,000 is reasonable.  Also, yes, there is a world of difference between a good violinist and a not-so-good one.  There (presumably) is a difference between a good basketball player and a not-so-good one.  DSO musicians do not make as much as Big Five players even though they are now playing on the same level.

What tax dollars are you talking about?  The Meyerson was built bought and paid for (primarily with private donations) decades ago.  Again the OPERA HOUSE was built recently, but that is not the organization we are talking about.  The Symphony pays rent, they receive no TIF money, they have no ownership of the building, they are not asking for a government bailout (like banks did).  If you want to talk about tax dollars supporting elitists, you could talk about police being sent to arrest protesters for using a sidewalk outside a bank, tax dollars building a hotel for a private company to run, wealthy elitist developers expecting a TIF handout every time they build a building.  I think you are barking up the wrong tree when you go after arts organizations.

Guest
Guest

Well, I suppose the difference is that popular music is a for-profit business, but the performing arts - opera, ballet, and classical symphonic, chamber, solo, and emsemble music - are preserved solely through non-profit organizations.  I never donated a dime before this year and I have been able to get great tickets to the Symphony.  My grandmother, a little old retired DISD school teacher always got the best seats, and consequently couldn't afford to donate.

I think you may be confusing the Symphony with the Opera.  The Opera did restrict the box seats and the aisle to $3,000 donors this last year.  The symphony has not done so.  The Symphony used to require that its loge box seats (the most expensive) be sold only in pairs, but I no longer see that requirement listed, and when I go to the online ticket-sales site, I can see that they do sell individual box seats now.  There are no seats that are reserved for high-end donors exclusively.

halldecker
halldecker

Popular music is a for-profit business.  Yes.

A very small percentage of Dallas, a thousand or so at each DSO performance,  a high percentage of those from the Park Cities,  think its efforts worth having.   If it is so vital,  wouldn't the empty seats be filled?

If it didn't get obvious and hidden subsidies from taxpayers,  I could care less what it does.  Using taxpayer dollars to promote a particular type music at a level none other could ever receive is where I have a problem.

"It contributes to our reputation as an 'international city' with culture.'   

A balanced City budget will do a lot more.

What will City Hall do when the Latino community shows up,  'we're now the majority,   we want an equal share of that money for our musical heritage and performances,  we want that building the DSO uses.'    "Uh,  the Anglo folks got here first,  and we only spend taxes on  music from Dead Europeans."

And yes,  I do know the difference between Symphony and Opera.

Opera is the one where the fat Italians stand on stage and bellow.

Guest
Guest

I'm sorry.  I didn't realise that Latinos didn't like classical music.  Though I am hispanic, nobody ever gave me the memo.  I hate to tell you but classical music is not "white people" music.  Just pay a visit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City or the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.  We're not just a bunch of dumb beaners, whetever you think. 

The arts in this country are primarily supported by private donation.  Since that comes from rich people, then, yes, there is a certain elitist element to arts fundraising.  I have no interest in going to sporting events yet my tax dollars actually do go to supporting sports teams, even though they are for-profit businesses.  If I did want to go to a game, I would pay a lot more to do so than I would to go to the symphony.

"Opera is the one where the fat Italians stand on stage and bellow." - Sort of illustrates the point that you do not kn ow anything about what you are talking about.  It is also difficult to believe, based on your comments and attitude to the art forms in question that you would have actually put up the money to purchace a season subscription.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Maybe supporting The Arts is one thing, Actually going is a different story ?

G_David
G_David

That sounds like a complete crock to me.  I've had season tickets in "mid-range" seats for years.  Not once have I been asked to pay more than the face value of the seats. 

Ray
Ray

There are enough rich families in Dallas to do what the Bass family does in FW. They've all made enough dough off of oil, gas, and Wall Street to kick in. Everyone should experience DSO, it's worth every dime to our communitie's soul. Try it.

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