Bonnie McGee, Ira Dubinsky and John Fairlie: Funding challenges
Steamboat Springs — Shelly Riley (Letters to the editor, Dec. 7 Steamboat Pilot & Today) laments that tickets for the Steamboat Springs Orchestra’s Christmas Concert have become too expensive for her to attend, notwithstanding the fact that she found last year’s performance “wonderful.” We are sorry for her distress and wish to offer a note of explanation.
About two years ago, we made a very important decision regarding the long-term direction of SSO, which was to become a professional orchestra. We made that decision because of the evolving talent in this community and the increased quality of their performances. It is hard to remain an amateur orchestra when the principal cellist, after a distinguished career with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, joins many other SSO members who have enjoyed significant performance careers. Becoming a professional orchestra rapidly raised the performance quality, which, under the able direction of our conductor, Ernest Richardson, has been recognized by our patrons. Despite this transition, the orchestra still includes talented local amateur and school-age musicians, including Anna Roder, the concertmaster of the Colorado Youth Orchestra. However, because costs are much higher, the change also resulted in increased ticket prices. At present, we are the only ski town with a professional orchestra and, to the best of our knowledge, the only town of this size to have such a distinction.
The arts are funded largely by the patrons who support them. All professional orchestras must rely on contributions far in excess of revenue from ticket sales to continue to operate. These contributions come from three sources: individual donations, corporate and business donations, and grant funding. The last category, grant funding, is crucial because the first two sources are insufficient to raise the necessary revenue. Many of the largest grant funders expect organizations such as SSO to raise 30 to 40 percent of their revenue through earned income (ticket sales). The industry average is 45 percent. Last year, we were at 25 percent, necessitating us to make the difficult decision to raise our ticket prices, which was the only way to increase earned income. We must be able to show funders that our audience sees the value of our product and is willing to pay a reasonable share of its cost.
In serving our community, we always have offered free tickets to those who could not afford to pay for them. Our ticket prices in Craig are lower because this is the only way we can serve that community. As we work to build an audience in a region that has had little exposure to the arts, higher prices there would decimate these efforts. Grant funds underwrite the Craig concerts, specifically to keep the ticket prices lower. Here in Steamboat Springs, we often sell out, indicating the prices are not too high for this community, especially in light of the fact that we donate free tickets to those in need. So far this season, we have given more than 200 free tickets to low-income seniors, students, individuals and families in the Steamboat Springs area.
We have an extraordinary opportunity to continue to nurture an environment in which young and seasoned musicians alike will grow, and audiences will continue to appreciate and support us.
President, Steamboat Springs Orchestra
Past president, Steamboat Springs Orchestra
Executive director, Steamboat Springs Orchestra
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