With corporate donations running well below expectations, the Sacramento Philharmonic orchestra says it will close if it can't raise $150,000 in the next month.
The 15-year-old symphony said it needs to raise twice that much $300,000 before it can consider presenting a 2012-13 season of concerts starting in the fall.
"We have had a very difficult season, and this follows other difficult seasons," said Jane Hill, interim executive director. "This year the orchestra experienced a drastic decline in nonrestricted corporate income."
At 4:30 p.m. today, the orchestra will make a public appeal for contributions at the Sutter Club in downtown Sacramento. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and other supporters will be on hand.
Such urgent appeals for donations have become increasingly common among Sacramento arts groups as they struggle to stay afloat or complete planned expansions in a difficult economy. The Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Opera, also faced with big budget gaps, used similar public fundraising campaigns. The B Street Theatre is asking residents to help it close an $8 million gap in funding for its planned $24 million theater complex in midtown Sacramento.
Hill said the Philharmonic is considering four options, one of which its board will approve at a meeting in late April. The most drastic steps include closing the organization altogether or canceling the 2012-13 season. Also on the table is the idea of offering a severely truncated season or sticking with a regular season, but neither of those scenarios is likely unless donations pour in, Hill said.
The Philharmonic had been counting on $190,000 in corporate donations for the year that will end in June. So far, it has received $50,000.
At a late March meeting of the Philharmonic's board, the consensus was that the orchestra would no longer be viable unless it closed the $140,000 gap in corporate contributions, said board President David Nystrom. Without that money, Nystrom said, the Philharmonic would be forced to double ticket prices next year, to an average of $130.
Compounding the financial pressure is the fact that the orchestra's endowment, provided by the Sacramento Philharmonic Society, has shrunk from $1 million in 2007 to $400,000 today partly because the orchestra has been drawing it down to stay afloat.
Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, an alternative chosen by other regional orchestras in financial trouble recently including the Louisville Philharmonic and the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra was not considered an option, Nystrom said.
Board members did not want a reprise of the 1996 bankruptcy of the former Sacramento Symphony, he said. That bankruptcy left 5,000 subscribers without recourse for refunds, and taxpayers got stuck paying an unpaid $300,000 loan.
"There's no integrity in that," he said.
The financial crisis at the Philharmonic, which operates on a $1.4 million budget, comes despite the addition of 162 new orchestra donors this season and overall attendance holding mostly steady since 2006, said Hill. She said the big problem is the lack of corporate money in Sacramento and increased competition for the few dollars that are out there.
"Corporate support is going to the arena, the Mondavi and the Crocker, according to what we hear from donors," Hill said.
Lial Jones, executive director of the Crocker Art Museum, agreed that Sacramento has never been an ideal place to rustle up corporate money. The Crocker, which has an overall budget of $7.2 million, had expected to bring in $375,000 in corporate funds by the end of February about two-thirds of the way through its fiscal year but received just $200,000 by that date, Jones said.
But she pointed out that the Crocker has never made corporate support a cornerstone of its revenue stream. For its recent expansion, the museum relied on large individual contributions and city funding.
"We have always looked at corporate giving as important but not key in our overall revenue strategies," she said.
Hill, who led Opera Omaha before being tapped for the Sacramento job, said the Philharmonic's difficulties point to deeper issues in the city's arts fabric.
"I don't know if there is enough sentiment in the region that says we're the state capital and we ought to have a professional orchestra here," said Hill.
Shortening next year's season or canceling it would be a temporary fix, Hill said. "This is a community that will either care enough about the orchestra to give it support or decide that it does not."