Frugality pays off for Minnesota Orchestra

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2010 - 7:44 PM

In a familiar mantra for local arts organizations, the orchestra avoided a deficit even as fundraising and attendance fell.

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Osmo Vanska led the Minnesota Orchestra on a short tour of Europe in August.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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The Minnesota Orchestra balanced its budget for fiscal 2009-10. Tight financial controls resulted in a slim $8,000 surplus on expenses of $30.8 million, even as attendance and donations fell.

"This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment," said board chair Richard Davis at the organization's annual meeting Wednesday.

Expenses for fiscal 2010 were cut 5 percent from the previous year's budget. While capacity for all concerts rose by 1 percent to 72 percent, actual attendance fell 7 percent, to 250,000 from 270,000 in fiscal 2009. This was possible because the orchestra offered 16 fewer concerts, a dropoff of 9 percent from 2008-09. President and CEO Michael Henson said this was part of the orchestra's financial strategy as it tries to budget with realistic expectations and continue to cut costs.

"We re-scoped our season to better match our supply with audience demand," Henson said.

Total annual contributions continued to decline. This year's $13.2 million was off 7 percent from $14.2 million in the previous year.

Artistic highlights of the year included a brief European tour in August that drew large audiences in London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam -- as well as significant critical praise. The orchestra's performance of Sibelius' Kullervo last March became the stuff of legend when New Yorker critic Alex Ross singled out the orchestra and music director Osmo Vänskä from among several world-class groups participating in a festival at Carnegie Hall. Recordings were released of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos with Stephen Hough. In addition, the box set of the previously released Beethoven Symphony cycle was issued.

The orchestra has raised $43 million to refurbish Orchestra Hall. In April, Toronto-based KPMB architects unveiled drawings that envision expanding lobby space and scrubbing the 1970s modernism from the building's facade. Included in the total is $14 million in bonding money from the state of Minnesota. Renovation begins in June 2012 and the orchestra has announced that it will perform the 2012-13 season at the Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium.

Henson noted that fundraising continues for the project, part of a $100 million capital campaign encompassing artistic initiatives and endowment support. To date, $88 million (including the building funds) has been raised.

The organization's total investments rose to $147 million, up $10 million from 2009 -- fueled by better returns and an influx of money earmarked for the hall project. That figure is still down considerably from $171 million in investments in 2008.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

 

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