Three local arts organizations hoping for a grant to help rescue them from dire economic straits will have to wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday to find out if the grant will be approved.
The one-to-one matching grant requires the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Ballet Theatre and Charleston Stage to raise $250,000 in order to be awarded the same amount by The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, Christine Beddia said. She is marketing and communications director of the Coastal Community Foundation, the local philanthropic organization that would administer the national grant. She said that the Donnelley board has yet to meet, but that "we're cautiously optimistic."
Charleston City Council on Tuesday voted to contribute $50,000 from the city's hospitality fund to help reach the goal, and the CSO has raised $114,000, according to its information on Wednesday. The economic downturn has caught most local arts organizations in a storm of lowered ticket sales, smaller and fewer donations and rising costs.
At least two musicians in the orchestra hope support for the arts in Charleston will sustain them through the difficult times.
Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker said many of the CSO's 46 full-time professional musicians joined the orchestra because it produces high-quality performances and lures conservatory-educated players, and is often a stepping stone to bigger orchestras.
Musicians and administrators alike have responded to the crisis by manning telephone banks to raise money and by defending the symphony's fundraising process.
"It's very difficult … to be at the mercy of a benevolent public," said Kathleen Wilson, a harpist in the orchestra and member of Charleston City Council. "That's the nature of the arts."
Wilson said the public needs to understand that arts organizations don't function like for-profit companies, which generate equity value that can be leveraged to finance their operations.
"There is no money being wasted," Wilson said, "no lavish parties. The money goes … to the nuts and bolts of the organization."
That's not to say certain changes shouldn't be made, she said.
"The fundraising is not always systematic or strategic enough," she said. "Once the goal is achieved, there tends to be a slowdown."
The administration is preoccupied with basic operating expenses and managing the bottom line, which can make it difficult to look ahead, she said, and a small support staff only makes the fundraising and marketing efforts more challenging.
Jan Newcomb, executive director of the symphony, said Wednesday that $114,000 had been collected so far, with many of the recent checks arriving from what appear to be from new donors.
One first-time donor committed $10,000, but most contributions fall within the $25 to $200 range, Newcomb said.
The checks are accompanied by notes that read, "I know it isn't much, but…" or "We cannot lose our symphony!" she said. "It brings tears to your eyes. I mean, it's just wonderful."
The symphony administration has asked the musician's union to renegotiate its contract, and union officials say they are committed to cooperatively finding solutions to the crisis.
"Local 502 of the American Federation of Musicians is committed to working with the Charleston Symphony board in finding a solution for the current financial hardship of the organization," union Secretary/Treasurer Charmaine Leclair wrote in an e-mail. "The Local's Executive Board is confident that a resolution will be found that will keep the CSO solvent and keep the wonderful concerts playing. … The intention is strong on both labor and management sides to work in a positive collaborative effort to weather the storm."
David Stahl, the symphony's music director and principal conductor, said he was ready to find innovative new ways to raise money, such as micro-donations that reach the symphony via utility bills. He also said performance venue and programming changes could help.
Maintaining a robust symphony, which has been the cornerstone of Charleston's arts scene for 72 years, is important not just for lovers of classical music, he said. The symphony's musicians and administrators have worked to set a high artistic standard that guides other organizations.
Currently, only three organizations are eligible to receive money from the Donnelly grant, but other arts organizations have been hit hard, too.
The League of Charleston Theatres, which represents nine theater organizations including the Footlight Players, Village Playhouse and PURE Theatre among other groups, is hoping solutions can be found for all.
Sharon Graci, who runs PURE Theatre and serves as League president, said she's glad the Donnelly Foundation is helping, but that she wishes other organizations had been included.
"I'm hopeful that I never find myself in year 10, year 15, year 20, having to bail myself out because of the way I have run my business," Graci said.
"By no means am I saying they are undeserving of support and help, but I hope it would not exclude other arts organizations that help within this community."
The Village Playhouse, PURE Theatre and Footlight Players have all reported ticket sales off anywhere from 10 to 30 percent this year.
"We want everyone to succeed, but my biggest concern is when something like this happens time and time again," said Keely Enright, who co-founded the Village Playhouse with her husband, Dave Reinwald.
"We don't have enough donors in the community to sustain this kind of bailout," Enright said.
But she is encouraged by discussions within the Charleston area arts groups. "One good thing: It's definitely opened up a dialogue on what exactly our arts community is."