Symphony & Opera on way to recovery

Organization dealing with deficit by cutting expenses

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 13 2015 11:31 a.m. MDT

Keith Lockhart leads the Utah Symphony in 1998. The US\\\\&O fell $1.6 million into red. (Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News) Keith Lockhart leads the Utah Symphony in 1998. The US\\\\&O fell $1.6 million into red. (Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News)
The Utah Symphony & Opera is well on its way to financial recovery, according to CEO Anne Ewers.
The US&O found itself with a $1.6 million deficit, Ewers said, and is dealing with it by reducing expenses.
"Our goal for this year was to reduce the deficit accumulated through the 2003-04 season to $571,233 by reducing expenses in all departments by a total of $249,603 while still maintaining the full mission of the company," Ewers said during a meeting with the Deseret Morning News editorial board on Wednesday. "First off, the symphony has an endowment of $34 million. We have not, nor will we, touch that money to cover our debt. Instead we have cut costs starting with our productions."
US&O has scheduled performances of productions that are cost-efficient regarding scenery, costumes and overall presentation without damaging artistic integrity.
"We have focused on presenting productions that coincide with the number of players we have so we won't have to hire outside help," Ewers said. "We have also looked at works that don't require extravagant scenery or costumes but are still wonderful productions. That will save on production costs but at the same time doesn't harm the artistic product."
The deficit reduction is one step in a three-year financial recovery program that was suggested by consultant Thomas W. Morris, who was hired last year to examine the financial state of the US&O. Other steps suggested by Morris, and followed by US&O management, include reducing Ewers' annual salary by $25,000, which will improve the expense vs. sales ratio. The organization also plans to present more popular productions to draw larger audiences.
For example, US&O had scheduled Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah" and Handel's "Alcina" for the 2006 season, but now have revamped to present Charles Francois Gounod's "Romeo & Juliet" and Mozart's "Magic Flute."
"We haven't performed 'Magic Flute' since 1985," said Ewers, "and we chose "Romeo & Juliet' because of the community's love of Shakespeare."
In addition, the company is requiring each of its 40 board members to contribute $10,000, and each of the 20 honorary board members to donate $5,000, and help with fund-raising efforts.
One of the key points for the 2006 portion of the recovery plan is to increase the fund-raising goal to 1.5 percent of the total revenue.
As for fund raising in general, Ewers said US&O is working on ways to utilize music director Keith Lockhart more efficiently. "Keith is here in Salt Lake City just as much as he is in Boston with the Boston Pops," said Ewers. "We are trying to find ways of getting his face out there and letting people know what he does."
Another part of the plan includes reducing costs of the Deer Valley Music Festival by $131,359 this year. "The Deer Valley Music Festival brings in $1.7 million to our bottom line," said Ewers. "It raises $2.7 million. One million of that money goes to covering costs. And we have a return of $1.7 million."
The Deer Valley Music Festival accounts for 25 percent of US&O's total revenues, which includes artists' salaries. Utah Opera accounts for an additional 25 percent of the revenues, while the Utah Symphony brings in 50 percent of the organization's money.
While US&O is currently on track, Pat Richards, chairwoman of the oversight task force that is implementing the plan, knows there are uncontrollable variables that can impact funding and contributions. "The bottom line is the community," Richards said in the same meeting with the Deseret Morning News editorial board. "The symphony and opera is not like a public park. If people don't use it, it will disappear.
"We are fortunate to be a community this size and have a symphony and opera who work at this level. We are moving along. We're not out of the woods, yet. But we are getting closer to the edge."

E-mail: scott@desnews.com

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