By Bill Hirschman
Large-scale opera productions would disappear from Broward County during the 2015-2016 season if area patrons and corporations do not pledge at least $400,000 by the end of this month, the Florida Grand Opera announced late Tuesday afternoon.
But even if the money is raised in time, only two of FGO operas playing at the Arsht Center in Miami during the 2015-2016 season will transfer to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale as they have for 20 years, said FGO spokeswoman Brittany Mazzurco.
No one knows whether future seasons would be imperiled as well. FGO’s hope is that even if it misses one season in Broward that they can mount one production in the near future if the company regains its financial footing and then rebuild.
General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis said Tuesday night by phone that “It doesn’t (necessarily) mean we fold the tent and never set foot in Broward again.”
The underlying issue is money. With an operating budget of $8.6 million, FGO revealed last fall that it has not had a balanced budget since moving into the Arsht Center in 2006. It ran a $1.7 million deficit in the 2013-2014 season. The accumulated debt topped $19.4 million until recently when it sold off $19 million worth of properties including the Josephine Leiser Center in Fort Lauderdale.
One facet of that shortfall is that Broward-based contributions and ticket sales have been falling off for years, according to figures supplied by FGO.
In calendar year 2006, 1,614 sources in Broward donated $1.9 million; in calendar 2014, only 385 people or organizations donated $574,000. In calendar year 2006, more than 31,000 people bought tickets to five shows in Broward, earning $2.3 million; in calendar year 2014, more than 12,000 people attended four Broward shows, bringing in $918,000.
The cost of transporting and remounting the four shows in Broward during the 2013-2014 season left FGO with a $125,000 loss. “And there is a projected loss again this season. Given FGO’s delicate financial condition, this cannot be repeated,” Danis wrote in a news release Tuesday.
To combat the problems, FGO started $17.5 million SAY YES fundraising campaign to pay for a massive reorganization and rethinking of its specific programs over the next three years. Tuesday’s news release read, “Although public opinion of the Opera’s new efforts has been positive, the fundraising component of the “SAY YES!” campaign is progressing slower than planned. As a result the Opera has reevaluated its fundraising goals for the campaign and, therefore, its operations goals for upcoming seasons.
The pace of progress is mostly due to the fact that FGO’s slimmed back staff only has two people plus some board members who can make the one-on-one hands-on outreach needed to bring in large donors, Danis said.
Under Danis’ tenure since August 2012, FGO has trimmed its staff from 40 to 18, cutting its annual operating budget from a high of $22.2 million to $8.6 million, and cutting back both the number of operas in its main season and the number of performances in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
FGO actually needs to get pledges for $600,000 connected to Broward County but it believes it has identified $200,000 earmarked toward the goal. The $200,000 represents people who have historically given regularly plus some other sources.
The Greater Miami Opera organized in 1941 to operate in the Miami area. The Opera Guild of Fort Lauderdale opened in 1943, and the two merged in 1994 as the Florida Grand Opera, just as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was opening.
The cutback in the number of shows in Fort Lauderdale is due to scheduling problems with the Broward Center, as is the cause for FGO being unable to transfer its fourth show of this season, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, Mazzurco said.
The crux is that the dates that the Broward Center can offer FGO both this year and next are separated too far away from the performances at the Arsht to make keeping the cast together fiscally sound along with other fiscal concerns, Mazzurco said.
The Jan. 31 deadline for Broward fundraising is dictated in part by the need to make decisions about the season logistics for FGO and the Broward Center, Mazzurco said. FGO can settle for dependable documentable pledges rather than immediate money in the bank, so long as FGO can assure the Broward Center that the funds will be there, Danis said.
But Broward Center CEO Kelley Shanley underscored that the facility values the opera and is committed to making the scheduling work “going forward.”
Given the demand for dates from groups that have to be coordinated in multiple venues — FGO, the Miami City Ballet and the Broadway Across America tours to begin with — “It’s been tough getting those dates aligned. We know what the challenges are,” Shanley said Tuesday evening.
“Our job here is to make all of these offerings happen for the Broward community and the opera is an important part of that mix, so getting them on the schedule is a priority for us,” he said. “I am extremely confident that moving forward, we have the cooperation of all the parties involved. We’ve got a long history of making it work, 19 of the last 20 years. I’m confident that we can make it work” in the future.
Gifts or pledges can be made online at Tickets.FGO.org/contribution. Alternatively, pledges can be made by contacting Individual Giving Officer Max Kellogg at (305) 854-1643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.