When audiences hum happily out of The Crosby Theatre after, say, a jolly evening with Albert Herring, or when they linger cheerily outside St. Francis Auditorium after, say, a rousing reading of Mendelssohn’s Octet, their immediate concerns probably aren’t dollars and cents. They’re thinking music, music, music. But, believe it, money, money, money is a primary issue for the off-stage folks, the management and board members of the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Charles MacKay, the SFO’s general director, put the matter with face-the-facts succinctness: “There’s never an artistic decision that isn’t also a financial decision.”
It’s a position sharply echoed by Steven Ovitsky, executive director of the SFCMF. With arts organizations feeling, like everybody else, the economic pinch, both men have had to make financial adjustments over the past several months. Both say the artistic sides of their ventures have been untouched. Both have stayed in the black: the chamberfest for six consecutive years, the opera, last season, by $4,000 out of a $16.8 million budget.
Squeakers, yes, but above the nasty red line, and both groups, pencils in hand, expect positive, if not overwhelming, financial blackness once all the figures are in for this season. Granted, their operating budgets are vastly dissimilar, with SFCMF’s coming in at roughly one-tenth of SFO’s, although the two organizations maintain top, internationally recognized artistic standards. But ticket sales, accounting for well under half of the opera’s budget and only 30 percent of the chamberfest’s, don’t begin to pay the bills. The balance has to come from gifts and grants (roughly 50 percent of the SFCMF’s budget, close to 36 percent of the SFO’s) and endowment.
Which is why both Ovitsky and MacKay keep a close eye on the market. The latter remarked, checking the Dow on his iPhone, “I’d never really known how vital it is to stay in touch with Wall Street. Until now.”
Both money managers are happy with their boards.
According to Ovitsky, “We’ve never had so many financial-savvy board members as now. We’re looking at terrific fiscal and artistic compatibility.”
Any surprises on the artistic end of the operations? MacKay allows that they might have “inventoried” more performances of
. “The show was a total sell-out immediately after opening night.” Prospects for the future? “Well, next year we’ll move starting times up to 8 pm for the last two weeks of August. We’re looking at some innovations with the media. We’ll be programming more French opera, and Strauss will be back. Unfamiliar, challenging works, too. There’s plenty of excitement about Vivaldi’s Griselda and Menotti’s
The Last Savage
next season and Szymanowski’s
in 2012. The pot keeps boiling.”
Marc Neikrug, the SFCMF’s artistic director, like MacKay, waxes enthusiastic about the Santa Fe audience. “They’re totally supportive, sophisticated and unafraid of the new,” he says. “There’s been plenty of that this year, what with five commissioned pieces plus older, rarely heard works. I can’t say enough about our customers.”
The future? “Dawn Upshaw is artist-in-residence next year, with a recent piece that Osvaldo Golijov wrote for her,” Neikrug says. “There’ll be more new music, new young composers, up-and-coming young artists to stir up the mix. And our noon concerts have been a smash, with more to come, especially piano recitals. 2012 promises to be a big year, too—our 40th anniversary.”
Is there a don’t-worry-be-happy syndrome out there now that the summer season has shut down? Not in the least. But both organizations remain unbloodied and unbowed by current events. And ready to turn the page for next season.