The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is cutting loose its Liquid Music series in response to the loss of at least $230,000 in corporate funding.
The nonprofit announced Thursday evening that it would no longer sponsor the boundary-bending music series beyond three projects next season, a move that will help it eliminate three positions. Among the laid-off employees are Kate Nordstrum, who has curated Liquid Music for seven seasons and hopes to continue its work elsewhere.
“We are optimistic about the future of Liquid Music,” said Jon Limbacher, managing director and president of the SPCO. “It’s a great series. It has great value for the community. It has a strong audience.
“And it has Kate.”
By e-mail, Nordstrum said that “the SPCO is refocusing as an organization, but I know how valuable Liquid Music is to this community and far beyond. I do expect Liquid Music to continue.”
The chamber orchestra was recently notified several companies, including the Target Foundation and 3M, about changes to their grant programs that would result in the loss of $230,000 to $300,000 annually. That represents about 2 to 3% of the nonprofit’s $10.8 million budget. With these cuts, the nonprofit is going from the equivalent of 41.5 full-time employees to 38.5.
“It’s almost impossible to significantly reduce expenses without reducing staff, especially if you want to protect your core mission,” Limbacher said. “We didn’t really have a choice.”
The nonprofit is “financially healthy,” he added. “The point of this is to make sure we stay healthy.”
The SPCO is among the arts organizations on edge over recent shifts in corporate giving. Earlier this year, the Target Foundation notified Twin Cities nonprofits that it would be phasing out its stable, flexible grants in favor of new priorities, which it has not yet announced. Wells Fargo and 3M are making changes to their giving, as well.
The SPCO has long seen a decline in corporate dollars, said Katie Berg, director of development, in an interview last month. Companies are also changing how they direct the dollars they give — shifting from flexible support to sponsorships or specific projects.
General operating support is the most important type of funding, Berg said. It pays for salaries, concert hall expenses and more, making performances happen. The Target Foundation grants being phased out took the form of general support, one of the reasons arts nonprofits are lamenting their loss.
Liquid Music is Nordstrum’s invention. Since 2012, the series has carved an uncommon space in the Minnesota music scene, presenting contemporary classical and chamber music hybrids. Nordstrum has become a storied musical matchmaker, pairing pop artists with unlikely partners, pushing them in new directions — for instance, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon with TU Dance, and Polica with Berlin-based orchestral collective Stargaze.
By e-mail, Nordstrum noted that Liquid Music is “doing very well financially, and has grown its funding base year by year.”
When asked whether the series might find a new home at another organization, she said that “the series is very contained and straightforward budgetarily, so it would be easy to transfer Liquid Music to a new home, in that sense.”
But Nordstrum said that she wants to “take a breath right now and survey the landscape,” thinking wisely about Liquid Music’s next steps.
“I have mixed emotions,” she said. “Mainly I feel gratitude for seven incredible seasons and the launch of a very important program for new music that will live well beyond its birthplace.”
Update: A previous version of this article named Wells Fargo as one of three corporate funders pulling some or part of its charitable dollars. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has informed the Star Tribune that Wells Fargo will continue its support in the form of a sponsorship.