Considering the precarious financial shape the Utah Symphony was left in following last September's musicians strike, you'd think people would be glad to see them get some extra money.
Guess again.At issue is a line-item appropriation by the Utah Legislature, in the closing days of its 1989 session, to the tune of $1 million for the orchestra's endowment fund, one of two such grants to come its way earlier this year. The other is a $300,000 challenge grant, also for the endowment fund, from the National Endowment for the Arts. Each requires the orchestra to raise three times that amount before the money is received, with a cutoff date in the case of the state appropriation of June 30, 1990. (The NEA grant gives them until 1992.)
According to symphony officials, the state appropriation was rushed through the final two weeks of the legislative session, when it became apparent surplus funding might be available. As part of SB-250, a $51-million supplemental appropriations bill, it was approved Feb. 22, the last night of the session.
In fact, according to information given members of the Utah Symphony board at a meeting Jan. 9, the effort stemmed from discussions symphony officials had initiated earlier with Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, who suggested the possibility of seeking a $3-million grant. At the time consideration was also given to broadening the grant to include other Utah arts organizations, such as Ballet West and Utah Opera, but that was rejected.
"It was sneaky," complains one local arts administrator of the resulting appropriation. Another, Ballet West general manager Trevor A. Cushman, says, "Supposedly state arts councils and indeed the NEA were created specifically to avoid the politicization of arts money. One of our fears now is that the symphony has set a precedent by this end run that will open a Pandora's box. Do we all have to go up now and lobby for line items? That's not good public arts policy."
Cushman, who since assuming the Ballet West post in 1987 has campaigned for a United-Fund approach to arts funding, adds, "My secondary concern is that any time you have a surplus you ought to let everybody share in it. It's fine if the state wants to increase its total giving to the arts, but let the Arts Council through its long-established grant-making policies determine how that money is broken up. I think we have to be sure, particularly in Utah where there are many fine smaller arts organizations, that the size of one's budget does not become a sole indicator of quality. We don't want to see the little people get lost in the shuffle."
With an annual budget of around $3.7 million, the ballet could hardly be called one of the "little people" vis-a-vis the arts in Utah. However, even that is considerably below the $5.5 million annually the symphony requires.
"I don't think anybody planned to do an `end run,' " says the orchestra's director of development, George Benson. "But you have to realize what it's like to get a message saying, `How do you feel about presenting a request for some of this surplus money and can you do it in an hour-and-a-half?' Our concern was seizing the opportunity to secure a million dollars for the symphony, and I think the feeling was that including a large number of organizations in the allocation would have clouded the issue."
"I suppose it could be debated," grants symphony executive director Paul R. Chummers, "but we think we have the most obvious pressing need at this point, given the size of our endowment, the size of our budget and our commitment to the musicians." Nor does Chummers see any reason the idea of endowment money from the state could not be extended to other arts organizations.
State Sen. Haven J. Barlow, R-Layton, a longtime member of the symphony board and a prime mover in the appropriation, agrees. "Apparently the ballet felt they should have been included," he says, "but I can't believe they are so upset about this. Timing is always important in these things and this time it was just right. The result is that the state has said, for the first time, these organizations are having problems but the answer is not government funding; it is to provide incentive for the private sector to come in and match that amount. And that should be very much an aid for the other arts."
But it isn't just the ballet that is upset. Recently Cushman met with leaders of other arts organizations and drafted a letter to the Utah Arts Council requesting a meeting to discuss some of the above concerns and specifically the council's role in future arts appropriations. Included among the signers were representatives of Utah Opera, Pioneer Memorial Theater, the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Salt Lake Acting Company and the Sundance Institute.
"To be honest, our position is neutral," says Utah Arts Council director Carol Nixon, who says she was not even in town when word came the extra $1 million earmarked for the symphony had been added to the council's budget. "We are always happy when the arts receive money. The arts council, however, did not in any way lobby for these funds."
Nixon agrees that ideally the council should maintain control over arts disbursements through its three-stage process of application, peer-panel review and grant determination by the council. "But there are opportunities that arisethat are sometimes out of our control and we do not want that money to be lost to the arts."
Utah Opera general director Glade Peterson takes a similarly pragmatic view. `Obviously we share some of the ballet's concerns," he says. "Needless to say, we all need an endowment established. But we felt no positive purpose would be served by fostering a lot of bickering and contention among the arts groups."
Hopefully, Peterson adds, a useful precedent has been established by the Legislature in terms of direct funding for the arts. But although he says he did not resent the symphony getting the $1 million, from the standpoint of his organization's fund-raising efforts he'd have perferred it to have been an outright gift. "My personal feeling is that a 3-to-1 matching grant of that order in this community is too severe, in that it puts too much stress on everybody else."
Cushman concurs, citing what he calls "a very fragile ecology of arts support in this state." Even the symphony acknowledges it will not have an easy time raising the required $3 million before the June 1990 deadline, apart from the $2.2 million in donations it needs to meet its annual operating expenses.
Cushman, for his part, even questions those aims. In a gloves-off letter to the Salt Lake Tribune last week he cited various provisions in the current Utah Symphony contract - including eight weeks' paid vacation, 90 days' sick leave and a musicians' pension plan - as contributing to what he called its "self-imposed" financial straits. Characterizing the symphony as "economically . . . a road hog and a gas guzzler," he charged the Legislature with, in effect, "penalizing all of the other fine-arts organizations in Utah for their own fiscal sobriety."
"Contrast that to Ballet West's contract," he says. "Our players get no vacation, maybe 10 sick days a year and no pension of any kind. I suppose we could prepare a contract that gave them all those things, but that is a very sticky subject, whether a metropolitan area of this size can support the kinds of things that go into 52-week contracts."
Not surprisingly, the symphony defends its efforts to maintain its current status. "Even had the strike not occurred," Barlow maintains, "we still would have had to do something like this. Under the present system, there's simply no other way to raise enough money from the private sector to fund a major orchestra. And I don't think a majority of citizens want to see that downgraded. It's like the Jazz - we want a first-class team."
Symphony officials concede the strike brought a break in funding momentum. "Obviously it's impossible to solicit money during a strike," Benson acknowledges. "But it's surprising how quickly people have been willing to forget whatever unpleasantness there has been." He cites increased involvement on the part of musicians in raising money and a similarly expanded effort on the part of board members.
"Clearly the more people we have working with us, the stronger the response will be. As a result I think we will probably see the number of individual donors at the $1,000 level increase by around 50 percent this year." That, together with larger gifts, should bring close to $2 million of the needed $2.2 million in operating expenses. The $3 million to secure the state appropriation, however, will have to be sought in addition to that.
If obtained, according to Chummers, the resulting $4 million would bring the current endowment level to $8 million. The $300,000 NEA grant, if matched, would boost that to $9.2 million - an amount that, although significant, is still below the $15 million symphony officials say is necessary to ensure meeting a $5.5-million annual budget.
Another potential source of contributions is the orchestra's planned 50th-anniversary celebration, to begin in May 1990. And here they appear to have brought off a coup of sorts by inviting former Utah Symphony board president and acknowledged fund-raising heavyweight Wendell J. Ashton to chair the proceedings.
Reportedly plans, which still have to be formalized, include a "Gathering of the Greats" at which prominent citizens with Utah roots would be honored at a dinner and gala concert, sponsored by individual firms at $7,500 each. In addition, Chummers confirms, there would likely be a special youth concert in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the orchestra's home for 32 years, and another at Kingsbury Hall, recreating the orchestra's first concert there in May 1940 - reportedly at 1940 prices.
"Much of that is being left to the University of Utah," Chummers says, "but it could really turn out to be a wonderful nostalgia event."
Everyone's major concern right now, though, is 1989 prices. And meeting that tab, even with the state's help, obviously isn't going to be easy.