Sunday, January 06, 2013

SPAC's excuses for decimating New York City Ballet at SPAC.

Reader's View: Sustainability key to strong SPAC future

The Dec. 30 “Reader’s View” entitled, “SPAC headed in wrong direction,” presents a false picture of SPAC’s commitment to its mission and New York City Ballet’s residency.

The letter claims that SPAC pushed NYCB off a “fiscal cliff.” This ignores the facts. The 2008 decision to shorten the ballet program from three weeks to two was a cost-saving measure initiated by NYCB. Let me repeat that for clarity: this reduction was initiated by NYCB, which has been working over the past several years to whittle down unsustainable annual operating losses and achieve a break-even position.

This move halted the residency’s ballooning deficit for a time, but costs relentlessly crept back up, causing SPAC and NYCB to scale back the 2013 program to one week. In fact, SPAC alone ended up incurring a $1.1 million loss for the two-week residency in 2012, exceeding the three-week residency deficit of 2008. The ballet’s executive director, Katherine Brown, has expressed her hope that “a new financial model” would ensure the residency’s future.

To this end, SPAC has been working with NYCB to devise ways to restore two weeks of programming in 2014 without overburdening either organization financially — a point SPAC’s leadership has repeatedly made to the public since last July, when the decision to reduce NYCB’s 2013 residency was announced. Continued cooperation and coordination between both organizations will be required for this effort to succeed.
A private not-for-profit SPAC has successfully increased fundraising over the last eight years: gifts from major donors have doubled, corporate sponsorship revenue has risen by 160 percent, the revenue from our wine and food festival has doubled and we’ve added several new fundraising events.

Ticket revenues cover only about 40 percent of the costs of SPAC’s classical programming. Additionally, each performance of the NYCB costs, on average, approximately $180,000. Yet, SPAC has at least broken even each year for eight straight years, an achievement not matched by some of the other superb arts venues cited as models by the letter’s signers.

Ultimately, a not-for-profit’s mission can only be fulfilled if the organization itself remains viable. With the performing arts everywhere in great need of support in our challenging economic times, today’s philanthropists — including SPAC’s — will not give to entities lacking viable financial structures.

SPAC has been fortunate to attract to its board, leaders in business, the professions and the community, who understand these realities. Several are veteran not-for-profit leaders, too, having served with distinction on other boards. SPAC’s Board members — dance and music lovers who give generously of their time, expertise and treasure — are well aware of their fiduciary obligations to donors and the public to foster SPAC’s mission, while managing the organization as cost effectively as reasonably possible.

The one point on which we all agree is that NYCB is a jewel. SPAC’s 48-year affiliation with NYCB, the world’s foremost ballet company, has brought distinction to our venue and prestige to our region. Building on this legacy is our goal. However, it can’t be achieved at the expense of SPAC’s financial stability or the quality and breadth of our other world-class programs.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts. The signers of this letter, the majority of whom are not SPAC members, need to realize that the issues surrounding this residency are not at all due to a lack of commitment to NYCB. Rather, they are a response to new economic realities and a determination to ensure that SPAC remains strong for future generations. Continued...
Marcia J. White is the president and executive director of Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
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Readers' View: SPAC headed in wrong direction

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center administration’s decision to restrict the New York City Ballet’s 2013 residency to one week is deeply troubling.

Their decision to push the New York City Ballet off a “fiscal cliff” will not just affect the economic vitality of businesses in Saratoga Springs and surrounding towns and cities. It will also place the future of SPAC in jeopardy by eroding its international reputation and prestige. It is the latest in bad management decisions plaguing SPAC since the 1970s.

The New York City Ballet is the world’s most celebrated dance company, as recognized recently by the prestigious CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

In the last three years, its Saratoga residency has fallen from three weeks to five days. New York City Ballet dancers, staff and orchestra members rent and buy homes here, eat in restaurants, shop and buy groceries and frequent local businesses during their residency. Tourists who are drawn here by the quality of NYCB performances and reputation spend money locally, too. The five days allotted to the New York City Ballet next summer is not a residency. It is merely a quick stint.
The dance companies with which SPAC will replace the New York City Ballet in July 2013 could not possibly draw as many people or as much fund-raising support. While these replacements would make a fine addition to programming, they can’t replace audiences built over nearly 50 years of Saratoga’s having the honor of calling itself “The Summer Home of the New York City Ballet.”

All around us, arts venues — from Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, to Proctors in Schenectady, to Glimmerglass in Cooperstown — survive and even thrive because they are run by experienced arts managers who have steeped themselves in dance or music all of their lives. Given proper fundraising and arts management skills, SPAC could thrive, too. But if SPAC sticks to its current course, its slide in artistic and financial health will worsen.

There are steps that SPAC’s administration must take to ensure its financial viability. Most of these recommendations were made in the New York State Parks and Recreation audit eight years ago and never followed. They are the key to building a thriving arts organization. Among them:

• Hire a professional fundraiser — SPAC’s financial difficulties are caused by inadequate fundraising and outside support.

• Analyze compensation and performance — The president, an employee of SPAC, does not perform at the level commensurate with her compensation, which takes up nearly 4 percent of the center’s budget.

• Reaffirm its commitment to the fine arts, centered on the music and dance residencies of the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet, which have been at the core of its mission since 1966. Continued...
• Rely less on ticket sales and Live Nation and, instead, revitalize its Endowment Committee.

• Rely less on visually distracting gimmicks like mounting cellphone antennas on the amphitheater as a substitute for solid fundraising.

• Increase the size of the board of directors to include dance and music lovers regardless of their financial status.

• Join with the community — Due to past and present investment of public funds in SPAC, it is appropriate for the public to have a greater voice in the operation of the corporate affairs of SPAC.

Please join with us to let New York state know of your displeasure. Contact Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Rose Harvey and tell them that SPAC is headed in the wrong direction. Contact New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and request a new audit of SPAC’s books. Only political pressure may convince SPAC to reverse its course in 2014.

Louise Goldstein, Saratoga Springs; John Tighe, Saratoga Springs; Rhona Koretzky, Saratoga Springs; Lisa Akker, Saratoga Springs; Mary C. Mahoney, Malta; William McColl, Schenectady; Zoe Nousiainen, Saratoga Springs; Paul Sulzmann, Troy; Ron Barnell, Schenectady (freelance photographer/classical music reviewer); Helen Bayly, Troy (member of the Royal Academy of Dance, London); Don Drewecki, Galway (Capital Region music lover/recording engineer — attended the very first concert at SPAC Aug. 4, 1966); Ron Wasserman, New York City (double-bass player in the New York City Ballet Orchestra)
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