Charleston ballet loses second board, struggles to survive
Last week, seven board members, including president O’Neal Compton, stepped down after months of struggling with financial and management issues, according to Compton and two former board members.
An initial group of several board members resigned in October, followed by two more in December. With the latest resignations, the ballet is left with no one on the board except Choreographer-in-Residence Jill Eathorne Bahr and founders Patricia and Don Cantwell.
On Jan. 16, ballet management met with dancers to tell them money was short, and it was possible that their 24-week contract would have to be renegotiated or nullified, dancer Gwyneth Kelly and Bahr said.
Accountant Steven Johnson, who with his partner Carrie Lanning served on the board until December, said the basic problem is twofold: About $125,000 is owed in payroll taxes for years before 2012, a debt for which board members are personally liable, and addressing this problem has been hindered by a general inability to raise money from donors.
Up to 70 percent of the ballet’s operating budget is made up of donor contributions, Johnson said. Box office receipts account for the rest.
The Charleston Ballet operates a performance company and a dance school. The school generates consistent income but not enough to keep the whole enterprise up and running, former board members said.
It has been very difficult raising money; many potential donors have adopted a wait-and-see approach, according to Compton, Bahr and Johnson.
“The company no longer has the confidence of the donor base,” Johnson said.
Bahr hoped that presenting high-quality productions, and shifting the performance schedule so bigger income-generators would come earlier in the season, would have helped inspire audiences and instill some confidence in donors, she said.
But the money has not been coming in.
Kelly said it’s a difficult and emotional situation for the dancers, some of whom had become close with board members. Together they held out hope that momentum would build, she said.
“I haven’t seen that kind of determination to move forward and give back,” Kelly said.
The Charleston Ballet reorganized last springafter it lost a majority of its previous board because of similar concerns. Bahr said she removed herself from most business management duties, concentrating on the artistic side of the operation and leaving board members to oversee finances.
“The board (members) don’t know what to do,” she said. “They almost were totally paralyzed.”
Compton said he and other board members grew increasingly concerned about the financial situation, an unwillingness on the part of Bahr and Patricia Cantwell to relinquish control and the ongoing problem of tax indebtedness.
“So everybody decided to quit,” he said.
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